Friday, 28 December 2018

Replacing apples with oranges

The Manchester Evening News has recently published figures showing the shocking extent of pub closures across the region since 2001, as shown in the table below. Seven of the ten local authority areas in Greater Manchester have lost a third or more of their pubs, with Stockport, which has lost 36%, actually doing slightly better than average.

Top of the list is Rochdale, where an astonishing 45% of pubs have closed their doors. This does have to be seen, however, in the context of what might be described as “changing ethnic mix”, which must surely also be a major factor in Accrington, which the Guardian recently reported on as The town where half the pubs have vanished. This also applies to a lesser extent in many of the other areas.

Neither does the decline apply evenly across areas. Tameside has done second worst across the board, but within the area on its south-eastern fringe around Mottram and Hattersley must have lost at least 80% of its pubs.

Of course this trend has to be seen in the context of the overall decline in the pub trade. Over the period from 2001 to the present day, according to the statistics produced by the British Beer and Pub Association, the amount of beer sold in the on-trade has fallen by 45%. Sometimes it seems surprising, not that so many pubs have closed, but that so many remain open, although it has to be said that some of those that remain exist on very slim pickings for much of the week.

Whenever this subject comes up, inevitably some Pollyannas will pipe up saying that, while we may have lost a lot of pubs, plenty of new bars have sprung up in their place. There is undoubtedly some truth in this, and I’m sure if you took into account the total movement in establishments with a full on-licence, it wouldn’t show anything like a 36% fall in Stockport. The liberalisation of the restrictions on opening new licensed premises has led to a more fluid market that is more capable of responding to changes in customer demand.

However, the overall figures on the decline of the trade do not lie, just as you can’t point to the rise in the number of breweries as an indicator of the general health of the brewing industry. These new places cannot really be considered a like-for-like replacement for the pubs we have lost. They are typically much smaller, for a start, appeal to a narrower customer base, and tend to be in entirely different locations. As I wrote back in 2011, “How can a small, boxy converted shop be regarded as any kind of acceptable substitute for an impressive Victorian or inter-wars building that was full of character and had served its community over several generations through a succession of licensees?”

This also raises a question mark about these statistics and how they are compiled. On the face of it, they don’t appear to take full account of new bar openings. But, on the other hand, neither are they simply gross figures of pubs lost that were in existence in 2001, as otherwise Manchester would surely record a much higher figure than 7%. Outside the inner ring road, Chorlton and the Wilmslow Road corridor, large parts of the city have become virtual pub deserts. So it would be interesting to know exactly what these figures are showing. Are they including some new openings, but not others, and how is the distinction drawn?

24 comments:

  1. The Stafford Mudgie28 December 2018 at 16:44

    Yes, “changing ethnic mix” is undoubtedly a factor.
    It is however very sad that there is evidence of Asians coming here, especially West Yorkshire, from 1948 onwards "with good intent", setting aside their religious beliefs and drinking beer in pubs to try to integrate but being shunned and so very much having their own communities.
    Much the same happened with those from the Caribbean having to establish their own churches.

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  2. I spent Christmas with the family in a suburb of Liverpool; I wouldn't be surprised if the pub attrition rate there was 30% or more. I wouldn't have believed you about the number of keg-only outlets without seeing it myself. Quite a lot still had their Higsons and Greenalls insignia. Without Greene-King, Spoons and M&B(Sizzling) micropubs would practically be the only cask outlets outside of the city centre. I suspect that, notwithstanding pubco extortion, a lot of tenant landlords just aren't that good at running businesses and that maybe managed pubs are the way to go to staunch the bleeding. How much do a few pots of paint cost ffs.

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    1. And yet, look at the Good Beer Guide and you'd think the western suburbs of Liverpool (Wavertree, Allerton, Old Swan, Stoneycroft) are thriving, with new micro pubs/bars popping up year after year. But their total custom would fit in the pool room of the Sizzling pub, of course. And as for the area to the north towards Anfield, is it just Spoons selling cask now ?

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    2. It's pretty much the same as the suburbs: GK, M&B, Spoons and micros. Maybe the odd exception but, in general, tenanted non-brewing pubco=>keg-only until you get to the more wealthy suburbs; Woolton, Aigbuth, Crosby etc.

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    3. Southern suburbs, surely. liverpool's western suburbs are in the middle of the Mersey ;-)

      By far the biggest provider of real ale in Liverpool used to be Tetley's - there were once loads of cask Tetley's pubs between the city centre and Queen's Drive.

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    4. It was Warrington brewed Tetley though not the proper Leeds nectar. Biggest shock of my young life the first time I tasted so called Tetley's west of the Pennines :-)

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    5. As always a knee jerk response from me on this one. Not true at all. I drank hundreds of gallons of Dallam brewed Tetley bckin the day and then worked in Leeds. (I lived next door but one from a Tetley pub)and it was a very decent brew. Leeds Tetley in its heyday was a tad thicker and flatter due to economisers amnd wide fltering back in the Yorkshire tradition. ;-)

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    6. Yes, the Warrington-brewed beer was noticeably different from the Leeds version, but when well-kept could be a very good drop indeed, most notably in the Circus Tavern in Manchester city centre. And in those days virtually all the Greenall's in Liverpool was keg or tank, unlike in North Cheshire.

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  3. The ethnic makeup one is interesting, and doubtless significant in that list. Certainly in some areas where there's a high proportion of Muslims, then pub closures seem inevitable (only this morning I was in an area of Walsall that is primarily Asian, and IIRC there's only two open pubs left, but plenty re-purposed or derelict), but other Asian communities have embraced and slightly modified the British pub, and in some areas of the West Midlands they're some of the most successful pubs- I've spent a couple of pleasant days seeking some out.

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    1. Yes, in the Asian areas round here, they tend to get taken over and start serving Indian food, but remain pubs (The Eagle and Tun in Birmingham is an example). I quite like them, the food is good and the service is unfussy. A lot of them are pubco, so it's probably the best way to earn a decent living out of such a place. Most, but not all, become keg-only though. Obviously this formula works with some Asian communities more than others; Every pub of this kind I've been to has been run by Sikhs, muslims (south asian ones at least) occasionally drink, but hardly ever in public, in their own areas. Quite a few pubs in muslim areas become shisha bars which have more similarities with pubs than you might think.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie28 December 2018 at 22:06

      Yes, their contribution, as businessmen rather than customers, might be greater than we realise.
      I remember Wolverhampton's Posada having a Sikh landlord over 45 years ago.
      The Eagle and Tun, which I've used twice this year, and Hen and Chickens across on Constitution Hill are both pubs I very much like using for beer food and ambiance. And the Stafford's Morris Man, just 'round the corner' from me, has been given a new lease of life by Nepalese folk - so no longer a two mile trek into town for a superb curry.
      Elsewhere of course Asians might just do a pub's food offering as a separate business, Thais first possibly in Fullers pubs then elsewhere such as Holden's Bulls Head in Sedgley and Oakham's Bartons Arms in Aston.

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    3. The Asian folk who run the Vine in West Brom run a classic boozer that gets a little bit gentrified when the middle classes come for the famous indoor BBQ. They also know only to have the one beer on cask, Bathams,Holdens and Abbeydale on my recent visits. A classic.

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    4. Yes, The Vine is a wonderful place: the front retains traditional pub atmosphere, the covered area out back is excellent food.

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  4. Perhaos I should change my ID to 'Pollyanna' - becaue it is an undoubted fact that numerous new pubs and bars have opened and are enjoyed by many people of all ages and walks of life. They might not fit your narrow definition of a 'proper pub' but they are almost alsways someone's local. It's also worth saying, I think, that they will be in differenat area to the pubs they replace - part of the problem with the pub stock of many industrial towns is that the pubs grew up where people lived and worked and now very often they do neither in the same artea, thereby leaving many pubs somewhat stranded.

    I do agree with you that questions need to ba asked about how the figures are put together. You will have seen my email explaining that in 2008 Stockport had 250 pubs & bars and 71 of those have since closed. So even without factoring in new openings they figures seem to be rather off beam.




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    1. Points well made, John. There does seem a tendency to look back on the past through rose-tinted spectacles, but things were often not as cosy or comfortable as some might imagine.

      I am just reading my way through Boak & Bailey's excellent 20th Century Pub (a most welcome gift in this year's Christmas stocking). Some of the boozers they describe, especially those from the early decades of the last century, seem positively un-welcoming.

      With revolting habits, such as spitting, common-place and many pubs, especially those catering for the working classes, almost exclusively male preserves, there is little that could be described as romantic; let alone desirable.

      Those who are only seeing the past through their own experiences, are not seeing the bigger picture,and they are also forgetting that pubs have continued to evolve and move with the times.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie30 December 2018 at 12:04

      "Catering for the working classes" last century might not be much different from opening a micropub "on the cheap", with random furniture and unisex toilet, for "the beer geek fad" this century.

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    3. Cheers Paul - just cringing at my poor typing in that post. I remember going on pub crawls in the very early 1980s and we'd encounter some truly terrible pubs and/or dismal beer. It's too easy to look back and just pick out those bits of the narrative that suit your own world view rather than judging everything in the round.

      As you say pubs continue to evolve and change. I was going to add that perhaps the pace of both has picked up in recent years but I am currently trawling through 30+ year old back copies of the CAMRA magazine I edit (for another project) and there was wholesale change in the 1980s and 1990s too. It doesn't bother me but if someone is of the 'all change is bad' mindset then it will be a different story of course.

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    4. The Stafford Mudgie30 December 2018 at 12:36

      "In the round" suggests to me that maybe everything's gone full circle.
      Last century my grandmothers wouldn't have used the "truly terrible pubs" that my grandfathers might have.
      Now my wife or daughter wouldn't want to use a micropub's sole WC after a dozen "beer geek" men have.

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    5. Of course the pub trade has to adapt to social change, something I recognise in the post, which is far more nuanced than you give it credit for. But, given that on-trade beer volumes have almost halved, it does all come across as a bit Spinal Tap - "our appeal is now much more selective".

      And commenters consistently fail to understand the point I have often made that you can express regret for the loss of things while at the same time acknowledging the reasons that have brought it about. Steam trains were lovely, but I don't think that present-day railways would be improved by more steam haulage.

      Arguably the people who really have their heads buried in the sand are those who argue that the decline of the pub trade over the past twenty years has been overwhelmingly brought about by the actions of the evil pubcos.

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    6. Stafford Mudgie, I have to agree with your comment about the appalling toilet facilities at many micro-pubs. The same often applies at Brewery Taps (craft especially!).

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    7. Not getting into any wider arguments, but my view, as I have expressed before, is that a single unisex WC is not adequate provision for any on-licensed premises, and I will not by choice patronise any establishment where that applies.

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  5. There are still too many pub/bars for the market, though. Many of the new ones appear to serve the beer geek fad which has at best another 10 years in it, so expect a swathe of the ex bookie/chip shop bars to morph into charity shops the minute they have to pay full rent & rates.

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    1. I would expect many of the recent crop of micropub/bar shop conversions to revert to alternative use once their original owner decides it's time to sell up.

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  6. I reckon we'll have more micros and converted shops now that councils are buying up shopping centres...
    Britain Beermat

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