Pubs minister backs Norwich landlords

David BaleThe new Minister for Pubs today backed the Evening News' Love Your Local campaign - as Norwich publicans drew up an action plan for him of what was needed to keep them afloat.David Bale

The new Minister for Pubs today backed the Evening News' Love Your Local campaign - as Norwich publicans drew up an action plan for him of what was needed to keep them afloat.

Housing and Planning Minister John Healey has been picked by the Prime Minister to lead a team of ministers to develop a package of measures to support community pubs.

Mr Healey said today: 'The Norwich Evening News' Love Your Local campaign rightly recognises that pubs are often at the heart of community life and are important meeting places for many people.

'While we can't stop every pub from closing, it's right we do everything possible to back them.

'Pubs in Norwich and elsewhere need help now so I am determined to have a deal on the table with a package of practical help in the next few weeks.'

The Evening News has through our Love Your Local campaign highlighted the role pubs play in the community and warned punters to either 'use them or lose them'.

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Last week we launched the second year of our campaign and again urged punters to help pubs that are closing at the rate of 40 every week in the UK, as the economic crisis takes its toll.

Publicans in Norwich today listed the five key areas for Mr Healey to get to grips with if they are to survive.

t Make it easier for pubs to compete with supermarkets by introducing a minimum price per unit for alcohol sold in shops

t Change business rates that unfairly penalise successful pubs by being worked out on turnover rather than size

t Look into the role of beer ties, and stop pub companies from forcing their tenants to pay more for beer than their competitors

t Give pubs leeway to opt out of the smoking ban, with 'drinks-only' pubs allowed to have smoking areas

t Do not increase beer duty at the next budget

Sue Coleman, chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich Licensed Victuallers' Association and landlady at The Stanley in Magdalen Road, north Norwich, said: 'It's good news the government is finally looking at helping pubs more, as it shows they are finally appreciating the role we play in the community.

'But for the Minister for Pubs to be a success, he has to look at those five key areas to make sure pubs do not continue to close at such alarming rates.'

She said supermarkets selling booze much cheaper than pubs was 'a huge problem', and called for pub business rates to be calculated differently.

She added: 'Beer ties also need to be looked at and the smoking ban is a still a huge problem for many pubs. When it was first introduced, there was talk of some 'drinks-only' pubs being allowed to keep smoking areas, and I would like to see this looked at again. The beer duty also needs to be kept the same at the next budget.'

She also called for publicans to be freed from the excessive legislation and paperwork they were currently burdened with, to allow them to do what they do best- running their locals.

Mr Healey, who is the MP for Wentworth in Yorkshire, said that ministers recognised the important role pubs can play in maintaining community life.

And he said there was concern across government about the number of community pubs that have been forced to close during the recession.

Ministers are determined to tackle this and give pubs a helping hand during these tough economic times, however government action won't sustain pubs that are fundamentally unviable.

Help could include any necessary revisions to planning policy that allow pubs to offer extra services and support for community ownership.

Mr Healey, 49, who describes himself as a 'beer man', will champion the pubs' role as the hubs of communities.

His measures are expected to include business tax breaks and the relaxing of planning laws to allow pubs to offer extra services in a bid to survive.

Mr Healey will also consider giving tenants the right to buy closure-threatened businesses from big breweries.

And it is likely the industry will urge him to pile pressure on the Chancellor to spare another above- inflation rise in beer tax in the next budget.

For more stories on the Evening News' Love Your Local Campaign visit