Closures continue but new openings – mainly conversions of existing buildings – a cause for optimism
CAMRA is calling for a package of government support for pubs after releasing figures for 2021 showing that nearly 300 pubs were demolished or converted to other uses, with over 500 others being classed as long-term closures while remaining pubs for planning purposes. Although the rate of closures has slowed compared to a few years ago, there is still major concern as pubs emerge from the pandemic to face a likely curb on consumer spending as the cost of living crisis bites.
The area around Oxford is fortunate in being relatively wealthy compared to many parts of the country, with a large student population sustaining many pubs in the city while also providing a ready source of casual labour – with staff shortages being endemic throughout the hospitality industry. There are very few pubs that closed since the start of the pandemic and remain closed today, and one – the Eagle and Child – would have remained closed anyway as major building work was planned that has yet to go ahead. Also remaining closed are the Lamb & Flag, looking increasingly forlorn although a community interest group has taken on the lease; the Mitre (see separate story); the Grapes, after leaseholder West Berkshire Brewery hit financial problems; the short-lived Bicycle Shed, in Summertown; and the Bullnose Morris, on the edge of the Blackbird Leys estate.
One new opening since the pandemic started in March 2020 is the Tile Shop in Headington, Oxford’s first micro-pub converted from a shop – a trend that accounts for many of the new openings nationwide. The Tile Shop joins new openings shortly before the pandemic including the historic Plough at 38 on Cornmarket Street, and the Teardrop “nano-pub” in the Covered Market, operated by Church Hanbrewery. Another small pub converted from a market stall, to be operated by Tap Social, is also planned for the Covered Market although conversion work has stalled.
CAMRA’s figures are compiled from the WhatPub database, which covers 47,500 pubs nationwide including 34,000 selling real ale. The picture in the South East generally, including Oxfordshire, was brighter than the national trend, with 45 permanent closures and 35 new openings (mainly conversions) – a net loss of only 10 in 2021. While there were 290 closures nationwide, there were 264 new openings (mainly conversions), with 505 pubs regarded as being long-term closures having not re-opened, been converted to other uses or demolished.
CAMRA chairman Nik Antona says: “These figures show that whilst there is some encouraging news about new pubs opening in 2021, there is still a big problem with pub businesses not re-opening after the pandemic. With the cost of living crisis affecting consumers, and the cost of business crisis facing our pubs, brewers and cider makers, we are really concerned that this positive news from our 2021 figures will turn into a nightmare report for 2022.
“Pubs are not only vital employers, but they are key to community life up and down the country – bringing people together and tackling loneliness and social isolation. Governments across the UK must do more to make sure pub businesses can survive the cost of business crisis, and that consumers can still support their local pubs at a time when household budgets are being squeezed.
“CAMRA is doing our bit, with our Summer of Pub campaign rallying people to support their locals at every possible opportunity, but we need also need action from political leaders. The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments must take action to safeguard the future of the Great British pub so they can continue to play their part at the heart of community life in the years to come.”
The package of support it is pressing for includes:
- An immediate cut in VAT for on-trade food and drink sales, to help both businesses and consumers
- Introducing an Online Sales Tax, with the funds raised directed to relieve the grossly unfair rates burden on the pub and hospitality sector
- Using the upcoming Statutory Pubs Code Review to bring more tied tenants into the scope of the Pubs Code
- Bringing forward the introduction of the new draught duty rate for beer and cider, confirming that it will apply to containers of 20L and over
- Confirming the retention of the duty exemption for small cider makers making under 70HL of product a year