Who is to blame for demise of the pub?

The Conservative Party claimed last week that one in six pubs in Norwich has closed since Labour came to power in 1997. But who do the city's publicans blame for the demise of the local? David Bale found out.

The Conservative Party claimed last week that one in six pubs in Norwich has closed since Labour came to power in 1997. But who do the city's publicans blame for the demise of the local? David Bale found out.

Official figures revealed last week will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of city landlords.

In Norwich, of course once famed for having a pub for every day of the year, there are now just 150 pubs compared to 180 in 1997.

Broadland, Great Yarmouth and south Norfolk districts have also lost 10 pubs each in that time, and a quarter of the pubs in King's Lynn have closed.

Nationwide roughly 3,530 pubs shut between 1997 and 2009 with 100 closures in Liverpool, 90 in Birmingham, and 90 in just one London borough, Tower Hamlets, in east London.

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There were 49,780 pubs in England in 1997 compared with 46,250 in 2009, the last year for which figures are available.

As you would expect during a general election, the Tories blame Labour's rising beer duty, pushing up tax on alcohol above �inflation every year and the new �business rates bill for the decline.

But we asked publicans in Norwich to tell us where it all wrong and opinions turned out to be wide-ranging.

Ella Williams, landlady at Frank's Bar in Bedford Street, in the city centre, blamed social changes more than politics for the pub closures.

She said: 'Drinking and eating habits have changed in that time and I don't know if that's to do with politics.

'People are also more interested in quality and are prepared to pay the price for quality, but not for anything else.

'It has had more effect on the basic community pub than on places like ours, where we are trying to encourage a more continental style of eating and drinking.

'People are also not drinking as much in pubs and go to them now more for eating out.'

While the Tories are blaming Labour for the decline of the pub, she said her biggest fear in the general election later this week was a Tory win.

She said: 'I would be concerned if Cameron gets in. He has very out of touch views on licensing laws and thinks 24-hour licensing is bad, and wants to get all pubs closing again at about 11pm.

'But the 24-hour opening has been a good thing and has staggered the times people leave pubs, cutting down on any potential for trouble.'

Matt Harris, landlord at the Griffin in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew, said the main cause of pub closures was supermarkets selling booze at cheap prices.

'Pubs also get the blame for binge drinking, when it's the supermarkets selling drink at the same price as water,' he added.

'The government could also drop the duty on keg beer, which supermarkets cannot sell, but pubs can.

'The big pub companies also don't need to charge their tenanted pubs so much for drink. They say they are doing their best to help their pubs, but they aren't. The pub companies buy the drink a lot cheaper than they sell it on to us.'

James Linder, landlord at the Garden House in Pembroke Road, Norwich, said there was no one reason to blame.

He added: 'A lot of publicans are treated unfairly by pub companies. Pubs that are doing well are being penalised by them, and have to subsidise those that don't do well.

'There are also the sky-high rents they charge and all the red tape we have to get involved in.

'Supermarket prices of beer are also a main issue. People are drinking at home and the downside is that by the time they come to the pub they are already drunk, and we get the blame for that. Each publican has a huge degree of responsibility and takes that responsibility seriously.

'I also think it was bad that Tesco was allowed to open in Prince of Wales Road and can flog cheap drinks to people already out and about. As for the smoking ban, I think we just have to accept that it's here to stay.'

Rik Roberts, landlord at the Kings Arms in Hall Road, Norwich, said young people were not using community pubs as much as their predecessors did.

He said: 'In the past fathers would introduce their sons to pubs and the tradition of visiting pubs would be passed from one generation to the next, but that's not happening much anymore.'

He said that whoever wins the general election, they will still see alcohol as a 'cash cow for the treasury'.

He added: 'What I would like to see the government do is to force off-licences and supermarkets to be more responsible when they sell alcohol. At pubs we sell drinks in a controlled environment, but I don't always think that's the case elsewhere.'

Susan Dickerson is landlady at the Leopard in Bull Close Road, which is owned by Bateman's Brewery, one of the few pub companies she said that does not hand out a rough deal to tenants.

She said: 'I have run an Enterprise Inns pub before and some pub companies charge so much for their rents and beer, you cannot make a living. But with Bateman's I'm paying fair beer and rent prices. Bateman's wants our pub to be successful and is willing to help out.'

She said her main gripe was business rents, which she is appealing against, and supermarkets selling drink so cheaply.

She is also not that optimistic that the upcoming World Cup will boost pub trade.

She added: 'Most publicans are hoping the World Cup will boost trade, but I'm not so sure. England matches will be busier in pubs, but for other games I can see people sitting at home with their cheap supermarket cans to watch the matches.'

The Evening News has through our Love Your Local campaign been highlighting the need for people to support their local pubs or risk them closing.

To see previous stories from our campaign log onto www.eveningnews24.co.uk/loveyourlocal.

Have you got a story for the Love Your Local campaign? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk.