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Do we like pubs or not?

Pubs can bring investment to an entire area

I have reassured my editor that this will not turn into another rant – honestly!
There is still a mixed message out there for pubs and pub operators particularly in London and the South East of England.  There is a lack of appreciation and it is frustrating.  Let me be clear, I am talking about pubs (not bars) which we all know and recognise despite the changes over the last 20 years; principally I can enjoy a pint of good beer (increasingly, good food) and I can both see and hear the person I am talking to.

On a national level, pubs are still closing (over 700 in the last 12 months), some are being protected by local communities and they are becoming recognised nationally for their benefit to local communities, and their wellbeing; their contribution to employment and the economy and also increasingly, responsible retailing.  What is not to like?

However, this positive message has yet to filter through to some councillors sitting on licensing committees considering applications to develop and improve pubs which are currently closed.  I am not simply having a “bash” at these committees who generally do a good job but it can still feel like an uphill struggle.  Sometimes I think this is based on a lack of appreciation of the distinction between a good quality and respected pub operator (often with other premises in that Borough) and more problematic often later night businesses with entertainment.  I accept it is difficult for licensing committees who have to be seen to be fair to all but for respected operators with a proven track record it is disappointing not to be given the benefit of the doubt, particularly with the wide range of enforcement powers at the disposal of the Authorities and local residents.

I am not asking for licensing committees to jump up and down at the thought of an investment of several millions in a closed or dying pub in their area but some appreciation, even a little, would be most welcome.  Instead, unfortunately, there is the rather painful trudge through a series of “what are you going to do about “x” and how will you prevent “y”?”  It is an exercise in trying to prove things will not happen which is difficult and disappointing.  Committees don’t seem to get that good pubs do not generally annoy their own local customer base.

At these hearings the pub is “on the back foot” desperately trying to prove that it will not cause any problems rather than being given an opportunity to bring investment into the area.  The rather unpalatable fact is that pubs generate noise, certainly busy pubs but that is the price to be paid for the benefits that they can bring. It is not possible to have both.  In all of these cases the application is usually granted with conditions but I have yet to hear a comment in the decision which expresses any appreciation for the investment and benefits that will be introduced into the area and which dare I say, other businesses which may not sell alcohol, probably receive.

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