There is no doubt that Lewisham’s pub scene has had a tough time over the past few years. According to a report published by the council in September 2012, the borough has lost a total of 29 pubs in a decade. But, with the help of the local authority and residents, 2013 looks set to buck the trend.
Last year one of Lewisham’s most successful pubs, the Catford Bridge Tavern, faced closure because developers wanted to turn it into a supermarket. 2,000 people signed a petition against the move and Lewisham Council decided in December to locally list the building. This prevents the owners from changing its use from a pub without consent of the planning authority. Admitting defeat, the company agreed to sublet the building back to its old tenants and the Catford Bridge Tavern was back in business just in time for Christmas.
Theresa Matzat, assistant manager, said: “It’s amazing to be back – it feels like a big family, it’s great. The Council were lovely, and were one of our big supporters.
“It was the Council that made it all possible, along with the people of Catford who wrote to them and campaigned.”
The move came as part of Lewisham’s sustainable development select committee’s recent commitment to “preserving Lewisham’s heritage, supporting communities and enhancing the protection available for local pubs through the planning process.”
Councillor Liam Curran, the committee chair, has lived in Lewisham all his life and is leading the fight to safeguard the area’s pubs against the: “Sometimes rapacious nature of pub companies” who want to change buildings into flats and shops.
Curran said: “Lewisham has lost half of its pubs, but it’s all of the pubs that are under threat, because of their land values.
“Lewisham has become better connected to the rest of London and so land is worth more here than ever.
“We’re losing a great part of our heritage. It’s all part of the fabric that binds our communities.”
In December, the council released a document revealing 27 additions to the borough’s 200 locally listed buildings. Twenty of the 27 are public houses – a sign of just how serious the committee is about protecting traditional pubs in Lewisham.
“They are socially and economically important. Listing pubs locally doesn’t automatically prevent a developer changing the use, but it is another weapon to give to the planning committee”, said Curran.
And the protection of pubs isn’t the only reason that residents of Lewisham should be raising a glass in 2013. In an outhouse on Harcourt Road in Brockley, preparations are underway to open a microbrewery that will supply cask beer to pubs and restaurants across the borough.
Andy Rowland, a property developer and one of the six members to set up the new Brockley Brewing Company, has lived in Lewisham for 30 years. He told Eastlondonlines what inspired the venture.
“People are getting fed up with being fed mass-produced rubbish. They are looking for something special, their taste is becoming more refined.
“We pretty much accept the reality of mass-produced products – most of us go to supermarkets, whether we like it or not, because we don’t have time.
“But people will make space in their life for a bit of the good stuff too: local produce that makes you feel better when you touch it, taste it, smell it, buy it: that’s important.”
Rowland said Lewisham Council had been supportive of the microbrewery, which is due to open in March and will initially make two brews – one light, one dark – to be sold around the borough.
The festive season may have seen a drop in Champagne sales across Europe, but Lewisham is well on its way to celebrating a beer boom in 2013.