An argument I’ve often seen advanced, especially in relation to Stockport, is that new residential developments in close proximity to town centres are a way of revitalising their pub trade. On the face of it, this sounds plausible, but in fact it’s another manifestation of the “captive market” fallacy. Being the nearest pub to a large number of homes is no guarantee of success, and indeed one of the most typical patterns of pub closure is of stand-alone pubs in the midst of residential areas, or next to local shopping parades, which will often be the only pub within convenient walking distance for a large number of people. Going directly to the pub from home in the evenings is a far less typical pattern of pubgoing than is often imagined.
While there may be 10,000 people living in Manchester City Centre now, when thirty years ago there were only a few hundred, that is still only the population that would support the handful of pubs in a typical small market town, and in terms of the centre’s overall pub trade is a drop in the ocean. Pubs thrive in the centre of Manchester, and other large cities, because they function as retail, employment, business, cultural and entertainment hubs for a wide surrounding area and thus attract large numbers of people for a wide variety of reasons.
If new flats are built on land that was formerly derelict, or industrial premises, it might give a slight boost to pubs in the vicinity, although probably scarcely so much as you would notice. But if former shops and offices are turned over to housing, it will in fact be bad news for local pubs, as it will signal a retrenchment of the town’s hub function and mean fewer potential pubgoers visiting it.