The future of London’s pubs


London’s pubs were already having a hard time…

  • Pub numbers have been decreasing for some time across the UK, often a result of broader economic and social changes. But there are London specific pressures too, such as the high value of land in the capital and the relative value of residential property.
  • The planning system now includes measures to protect pubs from conversion or demolition, however these can be gamed and still need strengthening.
  • London’s diverse and constantly changing neighbourhoods provide opportunities for locally-tailored pubs to succeed but remote, mass ownership models – and brewery ‘ties’ – can make running a successful neighbourhood pub especially challenging.

…and have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

  • Many pubs have struggled to adapt which has been complicated by rapidly-changing and sometimes unclear government guidance.
  • Pubs in central London have faced a particularly tough time but there could be new opportunities in some outer London locations.
  • The government has provided support to both workers and pubs themselves but a ‘day of reckoning’ looms when support, such as the furlough scheme, comes to an end.

London pubs’ community role can be underestimated and under-recognised…

  • There is a stereotype that city pubs are not as community-focused as rural pubs, and that Londoners are less likely to be ‘faithful’ to one particular ‘local’. However many of London’s pubs are as vital a part
    of the capital’s social infrastructure as village pubs in rural areas.
  • A substantial number of the capital’s pubs also serve non-geographical communities with shared interests or identity and these pubs can be extremely important, shared spaces for marginalised groups, as well as playing an enhanced social role.
  • Many of the capital’s pubs are so much more than just places that serve alcohol. In recent years, they have been constantly diversifying their offering, further deepening the social and cultural role that they play in serving their communities.

…and community ownership can help to save some but it isn’t always the right solution.

  • London’s small group of community-owned pubs provide a meeting place, a wide range of services to their users, and a route to sustainable operation.
  • But London’s high land values and sheer range of options go some way as to explaining why community ownership has not been more prevalent so far.
  • More could be done to strengthen community rights and to provide the finances and management structures that help retain pubs for their communities.

To help London’s pubs survive, recover, and thrive in the future:

  • London government should continue to recognise the importance of pubs to Londoners, and should explore the potential for requiring more in-depth assessments of potential viability before permitting change of use or demolition.
  • The government should continue to require full planning permission (rather than allowing permitted development) for pubs, to avoid permanent loss of those which may be viable in the future.
  • The new London Plan proposal to shift responsibility for mitigating the effects of existing noise and other nuisances to developers moving in – the ‘Agent of Change’ principle – should be enforced and applied.
  • National and London government should do more to assist community groups wishing to purchase under-threat pubs, such as converting the ‘community right to bid’ to a ‘community right to buy’, including through the new Community Ownership Fund.
  • London government and boroughs could also play a matchmaking role, helping to connect community groups who want to take ownership of their under-threat pub with potential tenants who could run it.