The Citizen reported yesterday that Gloucester City Council are thinking about adopting a policy to protect pubs; a policy already adopted by a number of other councils such as Cambridge, Lewisham and Kensington and Chelsea.
I’m not sure what this policy is, but it may relate to the new powers introduced by the 2011 Localism Act (so not all that new now), where pubs can be listed by the local council as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).
This is something that CAMRA have been encouraging for some time, and they provide quite a lot of resources to help you do that (see their web page here).
As you may imagine, I am all in favour of anything that helps to save pubs.
Others, however, suggest that this should be unnecessary: market forces should be left to do their thing. If a pub is good and popular it will be profitable and will thrive. If not, it will go to the wall, and serve it right.
I am all in favour of letting market forces take their course in most cases, but in the case of pubs all is not necessarily as it seems.
Pubs are difficult to manage. Trade can be fickle. Despite hysterical headlines in the papers about binge drinking, by and large people are drinking less, and much of what they do drink is cheap booze from supermarkets, not from the pub.
Nonetheless, well run pubs can be very profitable, and I am pleased to say that we have a number of those in the city.
The ones that tend to be less profitable, however, are often those in the poorer areas: the traditional back street boozers in the middle of residential estates. Alternatively they are the pubs out in far-flung villages, where trade is hampered by the fact that people have to drive to them.
And these are the pubs that are often most needed; the sort of places that provide a much needed centre for the community, where people can come together to chat, drink and get away from the TV.
The Great Western in Alfred Street, Barton is such a pub: an excellent hidden gem which was in the papers recently. The long-term landlady Lynn Mann is planning her retirement and fears that the pub will not survive her departure. I fear she is right: maybe this is a good test case for listing as an ACV.
So these genuine community assets need preserving for the good of the community and because they are part of the country’s heritage. Britain would be a poorer place if they were to all vanish.
But pubs also need saving from cynical owners.
As I said before, managing and running a pub is hard work, and a lot of money is tied up in the property. The owners, often big pub companies, see freeing up this money as a good way to make a profit or get themselves out of debt. Why go to all the bother and risk of running a pub when a supermarket or developer is willing to pay a good price to take the building off your hands.
In this case pub chains are often all too ready to chase the easy money: look at The India House, the Welsh Harp and the Seymour: now two supermarkets and a block of flats.
And they often don’t care too much how popular or profitable the pubs are as a going concern. If people kick up too much of a stink it is easy to mismanage a pub into the ground so that they stop caring about it. Sometimes these pub companies are willing to play the long game.
So well done to Gloucester City Council for at least thinking about doing something about this problem: hopefully it will save more of our great pubs for future generations to enjoy.