Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bleak times in the east

It’s reported that, over the past five years, one in four pubs in Cambridge have closed, leaving less than a hundred still open in the city. And Cambridge, at the heart of “Silicon Fen”, is one of the most prosperous and fastest-growing places in the country, so can’t be said to be suffering from the chill winds of recession.

Councillors say they are trying to put tighter planning controls in place to try to stem the tide. But how many times does it have to be said that all the planning rules in the world won’t keep pubs open if the underlying demand has melted away?

Yes, some pubs may well be worth more turned into housing. But that never happened to anything like the same extent before.

Perhaps my frequent locally-based commenter can shed some light on the situation.


  1. Martin, Cambridge22 May 2012 at 22:39

    Although I live in Cambridge, I've probably only been in those closed pubs mentioned on a couple of times. Most of them would make the locals in Reddish look smart, and they are direct, if belated, losses of the smoking ban. Some tried food but were poor competition for Cambridge's many chain restaurants.

    It's very hard to find a good local serving a decent Greene King IPA in Cambridge (Free Press a rare exception), but we do have a high number of specialist beer pubs around Mill Road which thrive on student custom. Beer quality in this one mile radius is as good as you'll get, but is the equivalent of N/4 drawing people away from Stockport central.

    The beer festival I've just returned from is second only to the Great British Fest, but does pull people away from proper pubs.

    What you don't see much in Cambridge is people just popping out for a couple of sociable pints, and (apart from mine) I hardly ever see families in pubs in the way you do in Failsworth or Didsbury,which I why I do most of my drinking in the North.

    The increase in Cambridge's population has only benefitted Tescos.

  2. Professor Pie-Tin23 May 2012 at 10:49

    Pubs close because they're crap.It's really as simple as that.
    Here in Ireland I live in a town with 20 pubs and none of them closed after the smoking ban came in.
    Mind you, I have to smile as I listen to the owners boring the arse of people complaining about a drop in business - and not a single one of them can be bothered to offer so much as a cheese roll in the way of food.
    And they whinge about younger people not going to their pubs - only one of which has free wi-fi or indeed any wi-fi at all.
    If anything the closure of large numbers of shitty pubs improves the gene pool of the rest.

  3. Maybe if they freed Eneko, he'd drink in boozers and them going?

  4. I love ITV's photo captions: 'Closed down pub' and 'Another closed pub'. Very informative.

    I wonder if Eneko is under house arrest in the boarded-up boozer?

  5. Martin, Cambridge23 May 2012 at 17:29

    I don't recognise the pub in the first photo; there are some parts of Arbury I wouldn't go after dark.

    Also worth noting that seven out of the nine pubs closest to Cambridge United's ground on Newmarket Road have now closed, with only one local and a pub famed for Thai food remaining for United's hardcore support, in contrast to the real ale stars close to the station. Similarly, even Man City's success hasn't been able to put life into the pubs around the Etihad - 1/4/07 and all that..

  6. ?????Professor Pie Tin??????
    "Wi-Fi and Cheese sandwiches"
    Not surprising the smoking ban fiasco kicked off in The Irish Republic,after a thousand years of hiding in bogs and behind stone walls,The puritans knew where to start.
    So called "Rebels",dont make me
    fall out of my rocking chair laughing.

    Crap Pub Loving Celt

  7. Being crap may well be why pub X closes instead of pub Y. Pubs being crap doesn't explain the general decline of the pub trade.

  8. I dont think whats happening in Cambridge is typical in terms of the general pub decline happening in the East or rest of the country.

    More than half of those closed Cambridge pubs have became housing of one sort or another as there seems to be a bit of a property development rush happening. I saw a link to one of those pubs that closed just off the Newmarket road the land is being sold for in excess of 1million pounds.

    So I dont think it matters how good or popular your pub is if a developer offers the pubco close to 1million pounds to re-develop a site, theyll be kicking the tenants out and tearing the place down themselves, if the place is just getting by, its going to be toast before anyone has chance to react.

    in terms of things generally,I do think the recession is having an impact people are spending less money in pubs, midweek trade I think has dropped off a cliff,and there are crap pubs, there are good pubs that are just run badly and there are pubcos looking to drop the masses of pubs they have on their books which really just cost more and more to run (especially if you suddenly find your responsible for maintaining the safety of gas appliances in all your tenanted pubs, when you had thought the poor mugs you had as tenants were)

  9. Professor Pie-Tin24 May 2012 at 09:43

    The general decline of the pub trade is very simple to explain - social networking and cheap supermarket alcohol.
    In the past people went to pubs to meet up with their mates and catch up on gossip.
    Now they do it online with a few cans.
    The emerging generation of drinkers have little interest in pubs and apart from showing Sky Sports many pub owners do little to attract them.
    And organisations such as CAMRA are as much to blame - real ale drinkers seem to want their pubs frozen in time and beer snobs turn their noses up at Weatherspoons who actually do more than anyone else to keep real ale alive while also delivering pubs with facilities that people want.

  10. "And organisations such as CAMRA are as much to blame"

    Professor Pie-Tin,
    It was CAMRA that promised us seven million new customers when the smoking ban came in.
    I went to a Kent pub last night for a swift pint and over heard a discussion about why so few people go to this
    pub these days. The location is great they said. The area is wealthy they said. The pub looks great they said. The staff are great they said. All of this is true. The consensus seemed to be that most people go to pubs for food and the problem is that the food is not that great. Naturally, no mention of the smoking ban was made. They are right the food isn't that great at this pub
    but it wasn't great before the smoking ban either. This pub had a massive smoke-free dining area at the back before the smoking ban. Now
    the area in front of the bar is also full of dining tables with just a token number of tables devoted for drinkers.
    All very depressing.

    And your right about the cans of beer and home entertainment. Before the smoking ban I went to pubs almost every night, ~300 days a year. Now I go about ~20 times a year and now I have a computer at home. In the past I had a rule not to have a computer at home on the grounds that I work all day on one.

  11. I've been in most of the pubs that have closed in Cambridge over the last few years, and I'm not surprised they've closed. They were all rough as toast and sold genuinely awful beer.

    If the pub next door sells Carlsberg and GK IPA, but a mile down the road they sell 8 different cask ales and 5 different continental beer styles, people WILL walk the extra distance for good beer. Thats the lesson to be learnt here: sell crap beer, say bye bye to your customers.

  12. "If the pub next door sells Carlsberg and GK IPA, but a mile down the road they sell 8 different cask ales and 5 different continental beer styles, people WILL walk the extra distance for good beer. Thats the lesson to be learnt here: sell crap beer, say bye bye to your customers. "

    You're missing the point again. That may well be the reason behind people's choice of pub, but it's of very little relevance to the overall level of demand for pubs.

    See this post from last year. If every pub was as good as the best 10%, I'd be surprised if it raised the overall level of business across the pub trade by more than a few percentage points.

    Don't forget that pubs sold three times as much beer as they do now when many really were crap.

  13. I've yet to see a good pub shut or even struggle for customers, that's the point. I think drinkers are getting pickier and more discerning. You can get good beer in tesco's now, so why should I put up with paying £4 for a pint of swill when I can have a high quality beer in my back garden?
    If the pub trade is declining, its because landlords are unable or unwilling to offer customers what they want. The smoking ban could have been handled better, but it is ultimately a red herring - I don't know a single person who would go to the pub more often simply for the pleasure of sitting in a cloud of carcinogens. Less people smoke now than ever before.

    Conversely, the market for good beer grows year on year: just look at the riotous success of Cambridge Beer Festival once again. The problem is, that sadly the local pub is often the last place you would go to get good beer.

    In the past people didn't realise it was crap because they didn't have anything to compare it to. Those times have long gone.

  14. Martin, Canmbridge25 May 2012 at 19:23

    Re: last comment

    The Cambridge Beer fest is sucessful but most visitors aren't frequent pub-goers, it's a social event like trhe Christmas party or Henley is.

    I agree with Curmudgeon, it's the overall market for pub-going that's on the decline; it won't be rescued by any number of excellent Taps, Brewdogs or similar.

    I DO know plenty of people who don't go to pubs (and footbal matches for that matter) in Cambridge since the smoking ban, though the pay freeze and energy price rises has hit Cambridge more than you might imagine as well.

  15. It's also worth pointing out that "good beer" isn't a key criterion for a large majority of pubgoers, including many cask drinkers.

    Plenty of people in Stockport are happy to sup Sam's or Holt's or Robbies' all night and would never dream of going in the Magnet.

    And cask only accounts for about a sixth of draught beer sales anyway.

  16. Smoking's a bit of a no brainer. 80% of people prefer pubs without smoking, 20% of people think differently.

    People also go to pubs for things other than beer: to eat food, to play pool or darts, to watch the cricket, to soak in the unique ambience.

    Ultimately, whenever a pub shuts, its because its not offering something that people want. I've yet to see a good pub shut. Its always the rough ones that go.

  17. "80% of people prefer pubs without smoking, 20% of people think differently."

    By the same logic, 84% of people prefer pubs without cask beer, 16% of people think differently.

  18. "Smoking's a bit of a no brainer. 80% of people prefer pubs without smoking, 20% of people think differently."

    When smokers were in the majority, they never banned pubs going smoke-free. Smokers did not say it's a no brainer. I only knew of two smoke-free pubs before the smoking ban, why weren't they rammed with this 80%.
    |My guess is that as so many pubs had non-smoking and smoke-free areas there was not so much demand for entirley smoke-free pubs.

  19. Well no, that's not the same thing at all, as I would hope and suspect you well know.

    A man drinking cask ale next to me in the pub does not force me to imbibe his drink. A man smoking next to me in the pub DOES force me to imbibe his cigarette smoke. Why should he have any more rights to force me to breathe highly carcinogenic fumes than I would have to spray him in the face with a plutonium aerosol?

    80% of the country's rights would be trampled all over if you allowed smoking back in the main rooms of pubs. 80% of pub goers would probably leave the pub and never come back. The smoking ban is the only thing keeping the pub trade alive. Think about it logically for a minute.

  20. "The smoking ban is the only thing keeping the pub trade alive. Think about it logically for a minute."

    Wonderful stuff - a strong candidate for troll of the year!

  21. "Why should he have any more rights to force me to breathe highly carcinogenic fumes than I would have to spray him in the face with a plutonium aerosol?"

    Good point.

    Alcohol is IARC listed class A carcinogen.

    If you see someone drinking near you in a pub, why not ask them to take it outside?

    This way you won't have to breath in the fumes.

  22. Martin, Cambridge18 July 2012 at 21:35

    Late postscript - just read in excellent local CAMRA newsletter that branch could well be first in country to have real ale in every pub. Not much to be happy about since it's due to keg only pubs closing, and with rubbish beer in many locals.

    This is no reflection on the newsletter which continues to support the cause of the unsung non-Beer Guide pubs well.


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