London pub closures

Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to help halt the decline in the number of pubs in London, releasing new figures that reveal the number of locals in the capital have fallen by a quarter since 2001.

The figures show that 1,220 pubs have been lost in the last 15 years. In 2001, there were 4,835 pubs in London. By 2016, this had fallen by 25% to 3,615 — an average loss of 81 pubs per year.

Two London boroughs reported a loss of more than half of their pubs — Barking and Dagenham (a loss of 56%) and Newham (52%). Other badly-affected boroughs include Croydon (45%), Waltham Forest (44%), Hounslow (42%) and Lewisham (41%). Hackney, the only borough that did not report an overall loss, saw an increase of 3% since 2001.

A recent survey of international visitors to London revealed that 54% visited a pub during their stay in the capital, underlining the venues’ great cultural importance to the city and their deep connection with English culture.

Yet the decline of the number of pubs in the capital suggests they are coming under increasing threat over a range of issues, including rises in business rates, conflicts with residents and developers, and the relaxation of permitted development rights in 2015, which allows certain types of development to go ahead without planning permission.

This audit of London’s public houses is the first strand of the Mayor’s Cultural Infrastructure Plan for 2030, which sets out to identify what is needed in order to sustain London’s future as a cultural capital. The plan will take into account a wide range of cultural assets, from dance studios to theatres and artist studios to nightclubs, with a view to embedding culture into the forthcoming London Plan, the Mayor’s development strategy for the capital, ensuring that culture is planned in a similar way to other vital services, such as housing and transport.

As part of his commitment to the capital’s pubs, Mr Khan has committed to working together with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to undertake an annual audit, so that the number of pubs in the capital can be tracked more closely, and efforts can be made to stem the flow of closures in the city.

The influence of pub culture can be found in everyday London life, from the five tube stations and the multitude of areas around the capital named after pubs, to the historic tales of iconic English characters who have frequented and been inspired by the many drinking establishments across the city.

Economic driver

As well as being intrinsic to London’s culture, public houses are also a vital economic driver, providing the first taste of work for many young people, generating one in six of all news jobs among 18- to 24-year-olds. Although the number of pubs in the capital has dramatically fallen, employment in pubs has grown by 3,700 to reach 46,300 in 2016 — an increase of 8.7%.

London’s night czar, Amy Lamé, has launched a public consultation on culture and the night-time economy, which contains guidance on how boroughs across the city can use the current London Plan to protect public houses from closure. This encourages boroughs to implement the Agent of Change principle, putting the onus on developers that build properties next to pubs to pay for soundproofing, ensuring residents and revellers can co-exist peacefully.

Mr Khan said: “The Great British Pub is at the heart of the capital’s culture. From traditional workingmen’s clubs to cutting-edge microbreweries, London’s locals are as diverse and eclectic as the people who frequent them.

“That’s why I’m shocked at the rate of closure highlighted by these statistics, and why we have partnered with CAMRA to ensure we can track the number of pubs open in the capital and redouble our efforts to stem the rate of closures.

“From the outset of my mayoralty, I’ve made safeguarding and growing the night-time economy a key priority and this simply isn’t possible without a thriving pub scene. Together with my night Cczar, Amy Lamé, we will do all we can to protect pubs across London.”

Amy Lamé said: “As an American who came to live in London over 20 years ago, I immediately fell in love with London’s pub culture. Running a pub of my own, I understand just how important they are to the life and spirit of a community.

“If you’re worried about your local watering hole, then please get in touch with CAMRA. We’re working closely alongside them to help safeguard the future of the capital’s pubs.”

Greater London CAMRA regional director, Geoff Strawbridge, said: “Pubs play a vital part in many people’s lives, providing a place to meet and socialise and feel part of a community. Yet London pubs are under enormous threats, notably from increasing business rates, high alcohol duties and property speculation.

“CAMRA has welcomed the opportunity to work with the mayor in monitoring pub closures in the capital, and hopes this initiative will continue to draw attention to the plight of London pubs.”

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, welcomed the mayor’s intervention.

She said: “Mayor Khan rightly highlights the negative impact of high business rates — many London pubs have seen huge increases in their rates bills. I would also welcome support to tackle the sky-high rates of beer duty in the UK, which is another huge burden on London’s brewers and pubs, following the 4% beer tax rise in the Budget. 

“Support for the ‘agent of change’ principle — putting the onus on developers when it comes to addressing any issues caused by new residential development next to pubs — is hugely welcome.

“I also hope also that the mayor and the night tsar work to discourage London boroughs from imposing late night levies in their areas. This is a burdensome new tax on small local businesses. Partnership working, between the boroughs, police and local businesses, is the most effective route to tackling any problems in the night-time economy.”