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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary November 18, 2009



Too many pubs?

Announcing an entirely predictable 20 per cent slump in profits yesterday Enterprise Inns boss Ted Tuppen said there were “too many pubs in this country”. 

The cynical might add that he’s doing his bit to put that right, but is he correct? Are there too many pubs?

We are currently losing seven pubs every day, according to British Beer & Pub Association figures. It’s a shocking stat all right and if you go round the country and see them boarded up or turned into accommodation or Indian restaurants you can believe it.

What matters, though, is not the absolute number of pubs in the country but where they are and what they’re doing.

As Nigel Barker, licensee of cask beer emporium the Wellington in Birmingham centre, said to me the other day, you don’t see good pubs closing. The pub on the corner of my road is now three quarters of the way to being flats but I don’t miss it. I never went in there because there were plenty of better pubs around.

There are probably exceptions. Good pubs that have caved in under an extremely adverse set of circumstances. But not, I suspect, many. More worrying are pubs that close which may not be terribly good but they’re the only pub serving a particular community. Not all the good pubs are in the right place.

When this happens we can’t trust market forces alone. These pubs are worth fighting to save, either by the community itself or by a publican or a brewery or (less likely) a pubco with the vision to see how it can work.

I remember a couple of years ago going with Keith Bott from Titanic Brewery to see the Greyhound, a closed pub it was letting from Everards Brewery in a scheme where it could sell its own beer. After driving through the streets of Stoke, passing boarded-up pub after boarded-up pub, we came out onto the kind of dirty, busy main road you find skirting most town centres.

It was nowhere in particular, and there was nothing going on – except the Greyhound. There was nothing spectacular about the place. It was nicely done up, served good beer and simple decent food. But it was working.

There are now plenty of examples like this. They aren’t outnumbering the shut pubs but they prove there’s another side to the death of the pub story.

They give hope that on the other side of this crisis we’ll be left with fewer, but better, pubs that are a living part of their local communities and that will be here for as long as people like to meet over a drink.

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