Village life 'dying out' as pubs continue to close

Ella Pickover,Press Association
Saturday 18 September 2010 11:23 BST

Campaigners today said traditional village life is "dying out" after it was revealed that almost 900 country pubs were forced to close last year.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said 893 pubs were forced to call last orders for good in 2009.

The statistics show that key services are disappearing from village life "at an alarming rate", said the National Housing Federation.

About 400 village shops closed in 2008 while rural schools shut down at the rate of one a month in England between 1997 and 2008, said the organisation - which represents England's housing associations.

It said the closures reflected a declining demand for services in villages where local families had been priced out of the area by wealthy commuters, pensioners and second-home owners, as well as too few new homes having been built.

Federation chief executive David Orr said: "The cornerstones of traditional village life, such as the local school, the shop and the pub, are disappearing from the rural landscape at an alarming rate.

"Rural towns and villages need to have mixed, working communities, otherwise there is a very real danger our countryside will become little more than a theme park for weekenders.

"While there are a range of issues at play here, affordable housing lies at the centre of the battle to save traditional village life.

"Unless we build more affordable homes for local people, they will continue to be priced out of rural areas and services they support will vanish with them."

Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, added: "Along with local shops, post offices and schools, village pubs are pivotal to the life of local communities across Britain.

"Pubs act as much more than a social venue. They are a focal point for sports teams, local groups and meetings. In addition they provide a range of community services like post offices and shops.

"We need a climate that allows these community businesses to thrive."

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, the union for pub tied tenants, said: "A warning from BBPA on pub closures is like another instance of Jesse James warning the people of the Wild West to beware of train robbers. BBPA is the last body anyone interested in thriving pubs should listen to.

"It is the artificially high rents and high wholesale prices charged by BBPA pubco members to tied pub tenants that has led to artificially high prices for drinks in pubs and led to drinkers deserting rural and urban pubs in droves.

"Drinkers are refusing to pay an additional pound per drink needed to pay interest to offshore bondholders of the pubcos. This has been a major factor in the spate of pub closures and the low income for the pub tenants in recent years.

"This week GMB published data which shows that by 2009 alcohol sales in the on trade were 25% down on 2002 levels. In contrast by 2008 alcohol sales from supermarkets and off licences were up by 21.1% on 2002 levels. In recent times the recession has impacted but off sales are still over 12% higher than in 2002. Retail prices are what are driving this change. Wetherspoons have thrived over this same period which bears out this point.

"Rural campaigners who want to save village pubs should help GMB get rid of the 'tie' and the high prices that follow it."

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