Celebratory drinks are few and far between for publicans and shop owners these days. A record 52 pubs a week are now closing in Britain according to figures compiled for the British Beer & Pub Association. Data for the first six months of 2009 shows the rate of pub closures increasing sharply, up from 39 a week in the last six months of 2008. Since summer last year, some 2,350 pubs have closed costing 24,000 jobs.
In the last three years well over 5,000 pubs have closed leaving 53,500.This news comes hot on the heels of figures for shops, which are being hit not just by the recession but also long term social trends such as the public’s increased preference for online shopping and telesales. Retail centres like Croydon are losing so many stores thatthe council has created special planning guidelines to convert them into homes. Pubs are suffering the same fate thanks to new social patterns such as buying alcohol in supermarkets and entertaining at home.
But there is a silver lining – pubs can be converted into stylish and characterful properties that buyers appear to love.“ I could have sold 10 this year, even with the downturn. They’re popular because they’re in the heart of towns or villages with big plots making parking easy. The interiors are interesting and large, often with cellars, and the upstairs levels are large to house pub managers’ families,” explains Emmerson Dutton at Bedfords estate agency in Bury St Edmunds.“
There are character features like bars, carved doors and stained glass - providing the pub wasn’t one of those badly modernised by breweries in the1970s. And of course pubs often tell a story about a family or a community,” he says.He has just sold a pub to a woman whose great grandfather used to run it in the early 1900s. It remained a family business and it was where the new owner’s father met her mother.
Ray Woodbury, who lives in a former pub, The Old Kings Arms, at Smeatharpe, a village near Honiton in Devon, says local craftsmen who worked on his home were drinkers inthe pub before it called last orders in the 1960s.“We’ve got the advantage of a large lounge, like the pub had, and there’s real character like low ceilings where the snug was when it was built 300 years ago. There’s still a water tank in the garden, used when the land outside was a military airfield in the SecondWorld War,” explains Ray.“
The airfield was used to film the HBO hit Band of Brothers.” He is now selling the property for £350,000 through Chesterton Humberts.There has even been a little celebrity cachet attached to buying a pub and turning it into a home. Richard Thompson of the band Fairport Convention did it in rural Hertfordshire nearly 40 years ago while Kevin Maxwell – son of disgraced tycoon Robert – did it in the centre of Oxford in the 1990s.“
Pubs are going cheap at the moment. Prices are 20 per cent down on two years ago and many breweries don’t sell off gardens separately, which they should do to maximise their income.That’s why we like them,” says Chris Snape of Saran Developments, which has converted two pubs in Wiltshire. But if you want to drink up and start a similar project, you should check whether local planners– or those locals who used to prop up the bar – will support the idea. In the Vale of Glamorgan a proposal by the Prisk Pub Company to turn the City Inn near Cowbridge into a house has been rejected.
The local council says it would lose “an established and valued community facility”. Officials even suggest the pub, which had been on sale as a going concern, had an unreasonably high asking price and that it should be reinstated as an inn for locals and tourists. In Scotland, the owners of the Crook Inn at Tweedsmuir, Aberdeenshire, have been refused consent by both the local council and the Scottish Government to turn the 17th-century pub into flats. “Conversion to a residential use would bring to an end, more than four centuries of public house use at the site. A part of the familiar and cherished history would be lost,” is how the appeal’s findings put it.
Now residents in the area have formed a company to buy the property and run it as a pub. These may be notable victories for nostalgic drinkers but the tide is clearly running against pubs.There are around 150 former pubs already converted into homes currently listed for sale on the property website www.primelocation.com, for example, and another 2,000 existing pubs are set to close in the next year says the British Beer & Pub Association. That’s bad news for those wanting a gentle stroll to their local boozer – but buyers who bag themselves a unique home steeped in history will probably raise a glass in their honour.
How to bag a boozer
* Ensure there is no covenant or contract preventing the building from ceasing to trade as a pub.
* Check with planners that a building can get “change of use” consent.
* Consider if thereis room in the pubcar park or gardens for a separate property.