Cambridge City Council are worried about their pubs and are doing something (if appointing consultants fits that description):
The consultancy has been appointed to provide the council with interim policy guidance and evidence to guide future planning decisions involving the loss of public houses.
The study, which the local authority says will also inform a review of its local plan, is expected to go out to public consultation in the summer for adoption later this year.
It seems that Cambridge see the closing of pubs as a planning issue rather than the consequence of other social change or regulatory action. The report does include a brilliant project description - a task I would be up to for sure:
Cambridge’s public house study will provide a comprehensive study of all public houses in the city...
Now joking aside what will this study conclude? It seems that what the Council seek is a planning stick to prevent the closing of pubs, some form of usage definition that will stop the loss-making pub from turning into housing or a convenience store. You will all have seen the flaw in this - planning isn't the problem and stopping pubs being sold for other uses won't suddenly magic new customers ready to tip down pints of foaming ale.
The reasons for pubs closing are economic and social - changing planning regulations won't make anything but the most marginal difference. The reasons for pubs closing are largely as follows:
- Social change - pub-going has been declining steadily for thirty years as people opt instead to stay in their nice warm living rooms watching TV, listening to music and annoying friends on Facebook
- Smoking bans - the smoking ban accelerated this change by making pubs less attractive for the 60% or more of regular drinkers who are also smokers. They too have opted for home or for the converted garage
- Beer Taxes - the ever-increasing duty on beer makes it more of a luxury meaning that people go to the pub less often and drink less beer when they get there. And that beer is cheaper at the supermarket fitted well with staying at home instead
- Moderation - yes folks, we're drinking less, quite a lot less. And most of that reduction since 2002 has been in the pubs, bars and clubs
Appointing a planning consultancy won't give Cambridge the answers - or even tools it can use to stop the rot. Perhaps they'd be better served lobbying the government for a review of the smoking ban and the cutting of duty on on-sales.
But the would be asking too much wouldn't it!