AS pubs in Comet country continue to close, reporter Nick Gill spoke to those within the industry to get their thoughts on the state it finds itself in.

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"Some pubs have been left to fail while others have been closed for no apparent reason"

North Herts Camra’s Andrew Rawnsley

PUB group North Herts Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) say that pubs are being lost at an “alarming rate” as the Government fails to provide the necessary support.

The admission should come as no surprise with The Red Lion in Weston the latest to be added to a closure list which also includes The Pelican in Letchworth GC and Stevenage’s The Prince of Wales and Chells Family Pub - all within the last year.

Pub retailer Greene King said The Pelican’s closure in January was because it was “not viable”, and landlords now face a two percent duty rise above inflation following last month’s Budget announcement.

Across the UK more than 4,500 pubs have closed since 2008 and North Herts CAMRA say something must be done to buck the trend.

"The Government is taking too much money and the landlords of the brewers are wanting too much rent"

Ray Lambe, landlord at The Red Lion in Preston

“We are currently losing pubs at an alarming rate,” said Andrew Rawnsley, secretary for North Herts CAMRA.

“The debate as to why this is happening is open to debate, some pubs have been left to fail while others have been closed for no apparent reason. Causes can be linked, in some cases, to exorbitant rents, heavy taxes, the high cost of beers through the tied house system, and general overheads.

“The Government has failed to act against the restrictive practices under tie. Self–regulation has failed and a select committee wrote a damning report following contributions from CAMRA and the trade. The Government has ignored this and failed again to introduce proper legislation to protect landlords which will have a knock on effect on customers.

“Pub companies such as Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns are, of course, in a terrible financial situation due to their enormous toxic debts. Large numbers of Pubco pubs have been sold, and are on sale to be sold to pay off debts.

“CAMRA is backing the ‘Protection of Local Services’ and a change to the planning regulations to stop the ease with which there can be a change of use, or in many cases where there is no application needed at all. A lot needs to be done to planning legislation to stop the speculative closure of viable pubs for redevelopment.”

The group has also put its weight behind a national CAMRA e-petition which is against the Government’s duty hike, as well as the Community Pubs Month initiative which runs throughout April, following its launch last week.

“We realise this is a tough time for pubs, as the recent pub closure figures highlight, and this is why CAMRA has put a lot of its campaigning funds into this initiative,” Mr Rawnsley added.

Comet country is already home to the UK’s first community owned pub, The Red Lion in Preston.

Currently North Herts CAMRA’s pub of the year, The Red Lion was taken over by the village in 1982 after the owners had considered selling it off. Landlord Ray Lambe thinks its a model worth replicating.

“When we did it we were the first but now there is a larger need to try to do it,” he said.

“The Government is taking too much money and the landlords of the brewers are wanting too much rent - there’s not enough money in the industry otherwise. We wouldn’t know our neighbours if there wasn’t a community pub and people come here and use it for all sorts of things.”

Despite continued closures, successful campaigns have been fought and won. The King Pin in Stevenage was granted a licence to continue as a pub this time last year after a petition was launched, despite being sold by Greene King to Stevenage Borough Council for redevelopment.

Landlord Leigh Chitty said: “We’ve said to people you’ve got to come in and use the pub otherwise you will lose it. We try to give the customers what they want and in return they support us. It’s working well.”

On the increase in tax, he added: “The cost of everything is rising so it has got to go up and people understand that. We try to swallow as much as we can.”

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