A DRINK at your local pub is probably one of the defining pastimes of British life.
It sets us apart from, say, the Americans who are more accustomed to hanging out in local bars and from the “mainstream” Europeans who have long enjoyed the surroundings of coffee shops before they swamped our high streets.
In the UK the local pub has long been the hub of the community, not only as a place to relax, socialise and participate in community social events like the “quiz night” but they are increasingly a popular eatery as well as a place to host public meetings, say, in a back room as well as providing a convenient home for local football and cricket teams to meet.
Unfortunately the demise of the local is an increasing phenomenon.
In my own postcode of NW1, numerous pubs have closed down.
The smoking ban, economic downturn and the prevalence of chain pubs have undoubtedly had a profound effect on the business viability of the local pub and therefore, their economic vulnerability in the last few years have made them an obvious target for developers with luxury housing in mind.
Not only are they sited in local residential neighbourhoods, they also tend to be buildings of character and charm with space to develop into luxury residences and even hotels.
My fear is that these community hubs will disappear before our eyes and what we have taken for granted as the bastion of our local neighbourhood will be lost for ever and with it one of the defining customs of Britishness.
This is why at the last meeting of the London Assembly on March 5, I proposed a motion urging the Mayor of London to use his planning strategy to give greater protection to pubs in London.
The motion was agreed unanimously by the assembly which called on the mayor to revise his London Plan to include new guidance for local authorities to promote pubs and protect them from unnecessary changes of use.
Here’s what the motion said: “Public houses are the hubs of communities where locals gather with friends and families to socialise and they are currently under threat across London.
“A great number of pubs in the capital have closed down and this is detrimental to the communities they once served.
“The mayor should strengthen the London Plan so that local authorities have the ability to protect these community pillars.”
Assembly members were in agreement and following some debate the full text of the amended motion agreed read as follows:
“This assembly recognises that public houses are important community assets that cater to a broad clientele with a diverse range of needs.
“They are hubs of communities where people gather with friends, enjoy a family lunch at the weekend, and run into neighbours for a chat. Pubs also often provide affordable community space where community groups meet and otherwise act as anchors of the local community.
“Yet these stalwarts of the high street are under threat. Across the country, pubs are closing at a rate of 26 a week, with London’s public houses being among the hardest hit.
“This assembly therefore welcomes the guidance in the draft London Plan alterations which recognises for the first time ‘the important role that London’s public houses can play in the social fabric of communities’ and encourages local authorities to adopt policies to maintain, manage, and enhance public houses, as well as the new policy wording which encourages boroughs to develop polices to prevent their loss.
“However, the London Plan must be strengthened further if local authorities are to be given the additional tools to protect threatened pubs through their own local planning policies.
“The plan must include additional policies which set out a clear inclination to retain pubs, such as a presumption against change of use where a developer is unable to meet strict criteria for the marketing and viability of the site.
“This assembly therefore calls on the Mayor of London to revise his Further Alterations to the London Plan to include further guidance for local authorities to promote and protect pubs.”
Need I say more?
I applaud the assembly for supporting my motion; it demonstrates recognition of the role pubs play in promoting community cohesion particularly in London where it is not unheard of for neighbours to be strangers.
If you happen not to know your neighbour, you may still bump into them down your local pub and even be part of the same quiz team!
They are one of the few establishments on the British high street where you don’t need to pay to enter and you don’t need to fit a certain profile to visit and yet people from all walks of life can relax and participate in social events together.
Now that’s worth preserving.
So let us see what the mayor is going to do about it.
Read article in the West End Extra