Kent’s pub licensees will be raising a glass or two to the recent sunny weather, and that’s a cheering thought for the holiday season.
However, in recent years the county has lost hundreds of pubs due to a combination of rising prices and rents, and the changing tastes of consumers who now demand high quality food, a welcoming atmosphere and well trained staff – not always the pre-requisites of old style, street corner ‘boozers’.
According to the Campaign for Real Ale, across the country the number of pubs has declined from 68,000 in 1982 to 52,000 today.
So it was interesting to see that the London borough of Wandsworth has become the first local authority in Britain to impose restrictions on the ability of developers to close pubs, and convert them to housing or shops.
Wandsworth hopes other councils follow suit, and says it is taking this step because it “specifically recognises the historic, architectural and community value” of its local pubs.
However, companies and individuals owning pubs will tell you it is unfair to expect them to keep pubs open which are losing money, and anyone who has ever run a pub will also tell you that it is one of the most challenging business environments in which to make a profit.
So do governments, local or national, have a role to play in placing restrictions on one particular sector of the business community?
WBG member Richard Harvey, who was brought up in a pub and for many years provided PR advice to Shepherd Neame and the British Beer & Pubs Association thinks not. He says: “Over the past 50 years, there have been many attempts to impose legislation on the pub industry, and they’ve all failed.
“At the end of the day, if licensees cannot make a decent living from a particular pub, then it should be considered for re-development. You cannot expect people to lose money”.
WBG chairman Justin Nelson, a local member of the successful Campaign for Real Ale lobbying organisation said, “Wandsworth’s initiative is a welcome refinement in the campaign to protect pubs: listing them as Assets of Community Value offers similar protection but brings disadvantages, too, while the Wandsworth solution gets directly to the heart of the issue”