Hurry up, Harry, we're going down the grocers

As pubs give way to supermarkets, is it a case of adapt or call time, asks James Thompson

The local pub has long been the place where people drink, eat, watch sport, meet their long-term (or immediate) partners and even get into bar-room brawls.

But these days the British are almost as likely to bump into neighbours at the grocery store as they are at their local.

This is because Tesco is understood to have converted up to 160 former boozers into supermarkets, amid an alarmingly fast rate of pub closures during the economic downturn.

Tesco accounted for 119 of the 199 pubs converted over the three years to December, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

However, as this data excludes the North East and only provides a snapshot of the last decade, the true figure on conversions is likely to be much higher.

And Tesco is not alone, as the likes of Sainsbury's, Aldi, Co-op and Costcutter have also turned failed pubs into food stores. They are attracted to sites that often have car parks and are located at the heart of communities.

This land grab has got the pub industry hot under the collar at a time when 26 locals a week are closing, equal to 1,352 a year, according to Camra.

Mike Benner, Camra's chief executive, said: "Weak and misguided planning laws and the predatory acquisition of valued pub sites by large supermarket chains, coupled with the willingness of pub owners to cash in and sell for development, are some of the biggest threats to the future of Britain's social fabric.

"For years, large supermarket chains have shown a disregard for the well-being of local communities, gutting much-loved former pubs in areas already well served by supermarket stores."

He added: "Pubs are being targeted for development by supermarket chains due to gaps in planning controls, allowing supermarkets to ride roughshod over the wishes of the local community."

This, though, is an argument that irks the big supermarkets.

The grocers argue that they are not responsible for the growing reluctance of customers to pay £4 a pint or more at their local boozer – pricing levels that the beer industry has repeatedly blamed on the Government's punitive alcohol taxes – as the British increasingly opt to entertain at home.

The supermarkets also typically take closed or empty former pubs, which can become a magnet for drug addicts, criminals or fly-tippers.

Scott Annan, a retail consultant at Blue Ananta, said: "In my experience, supermarkets are not buying thriving pubs – such as The George IV in Chiswick [west London ]. They are taking redundant pubs that have ceased to be viable.

"Consumers' demand for shopping at convenience stores is growing enormously and at a much faster rate than other areas of the grocery sector," he added.

"We all need to eat and drink but do not want or need to go to a good or a bad pub. If a supermarket can take these redundant properties at the heart of local communities and turn them into something that people want, then that has to be a good thing."

The supermarkets also point to the jobs they create in local communities by acquiring former pubs.

A Tesco spokesman said: "By helping to find a use for a small proportion of those buildings [ex-pubs], we are part of the solution for communities – not the problem."

Furthermore, the supermarkets argue, the cash machines they provide also help to pump money into other local shops at a time when many banks are withdrawing from the high street.

Like those shops, pubs are having to reinvent themselves – by sprucing up their interiors, for example, or serving coffee and food – in order to remain relevant.

For those that don't, The Good Pub Guide 2014 warned this week that between 2,500 and 4,000 pubs could close over the next 12 months, adding that for some it is "high time they closed their doors".

Alisdair Aird, the Guide's co-editor, said: "Pubs have got to diversify if they want to succeed – they can't just open for lunch and open again in the evening any more."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat