Report calls on locals and council to save their pubs

Lewisham council is appealing for residents to vouch for their local boozers as part of a new plan to stem the tide of closing pubs.

A report from the Sustainable Development Select Committee found 53 pubs in the borough had closed in the last ten years, with some wards losing 70% or even 100% of their local boozers.

The document says pubs can be “an important community resource” and delivers seven recommendations to protect them, including an invitation to community groups to submit their pub for listing.

It concludes that some pubs have suffered due to a decline in beer drinking or competition with cheap supermarkets, while others have been unable to modernise or appeal to the changing tastes of punters.

But it also found a willingness by pub companies to deliberately mismanage pubs, or impose disproportionally high rents on landlords, effectively forcing closure.

It reported: “High residential and retail values often make premises more lucrative to developers and pub companies as flats or convenience stores than as pubs.”

In full, the report recommends:

  • Tightening up restrictions on marketing pubs up for sale, so that owners can’t falsely portray them as a losing bet so as to sell them off for supermarket land
  • Updating the council’s register of community venues to include pub function rooms and hire spaces
  • Launching a highly-publicised review of all local pubs for listing status
  • Making developers work harder to prove that there is no demand for a pub in an area and that the land could be more effectively used
  • Encouraging local groups to submit their pubs for listing
  • Scrutinising these changes to avoid excessive bureaucracy for pub managers
  • Making another report in time for the end of the 2013/2014 municipal year

It also finds “an uneven distribution of pubs across the borough”, with Brockley, New Cross and Blackheath considered pub-rich, but Catford and Downham lacking in provision.

In Evelyn, 16 of 21 pubs were closed between 2001 and 2011. In Telegraph Hill it was 5 out of 7; in Downham, 2 out of 3. In Whitefoot, there were only two pubs – both of which were closed.

It said: “Pubs often support community groups and local charities…a well run pub has the potential to provide a locus for its neighbourhood and enhance the vitality of its locality.”

According to the Campaign for Real Ale, the current planning system allows pubs to be converted to shops or restaurants without planning permission. The recommendations of the report would beef up planning laws to provide a better defence against pub closures.

Emily Nutbourne, general manager of the Royal Albert on New Cross Road, is part of the Antic group of pubs, which was consulted for the report, said her pub was already used by community groups but that more could be done.

She said: “The Deptford Arms has been turned into a Paddy Power, which is obviously bad for the community. It would be great if it could be used as a community space and not neccesarily even a pub, but somewhere people could use.”

To protect the use of pubs as venues for community groups and activities, the report calls on the council to update its register of community venues for hire to include available spaces in local pubs.

The report was compiled from a survey by Lewisham planning officers, and interested parties were invited to speak about the importance of preserving Lewisham’s pubs. This included pub enthusiasts, publicans and community groups.

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