The sudden emergence of campaigns to defend local pubs- most recently ‘The Star' and ‘The Clifton' in St John's Wood, have brought together some distinct and important elements. One is, of course, a specific affection for the pubs themselves- the food, the beer, the service, the events held there. The second, related factor is the pub forming part of a sense of place- the pub within the neighbourhood. Of course habits change and, in the same way that high streets must adapt to our growing fondness for shopping on-line, many pubs are going under due to our different patterns of consumption. Despite this, a good pub is something we feel strongly about. It is part of our cultural heritage. It is somewhere to meet up, especially at night when the coffee shops have closed. A good pub is one of the remaining centres of community life, and we often cling to that, in a fast-changing place like London. A good pub, too, welcomes people from all backgrounds and walks of life. We can all rub shoulders together in a manner that has become increasingly rare in our rather stratified city.
But there is more. Many if not most of our pub defenders make the point to me that they don't want to see their pub converted into yet more luxury housing- housing which may be simply another home for (global) investment, and maybe not even lived in. In common with the campaigners against monster basement conversions, pub defenders feel that their slice of inner London- prosperous, perhaps, but never far away from much more mixed communities, is disappearing. Most of us feel the need for some familiarly, some roots in the neighbourhood we live in. We like to see familiar and use familiar landmarks. Some of this, is, of course, down to us. If we don't shop locally, local shops will disappear. If we don't pop in to our local pub, it will close too. But we want a fighting chance against the tide of property investment which is engulfing central London. If ‘localism' is to mean anything, our council and our planners must use whatever powers they have to support well-loved local institutions like ‘The Star' and ‘The Clifton'. They must make sure a robust local economic strategy keeps our ‘high-streets' alive. And the government nationally should support the proposals of Business Select Committee to support pubs, which are closing at the rate of 18 a week across the country. Each of those 18 closures costs their community 11 jobs and sees a loss of around £80,000 to the local economy- investment which isn't matched by the replacement of a pub with a luxury home.
In the meantime, I wish every good luck to the local campaigns around ‘The Star' and ‘The Clifton', which have clearly touched a real nerve and deserve to succeed. You can do your bit by signing the petition at here.