The difficulties faced by the licensed trade have been widely documented. Currently pubs in the UK are closing at a rate variously reported as being between 12 and 50 a week. The online Lost Pubs Project lists over 21,000 public houses that have closed their doors for good. The reasons for this are largely attributed to high levels of taxation and unfair competition from supermarkets. The smoking ban has also been cited as a contributing factor.
However, the roots of the problem may be traced back to the decision of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to compel the large breweries to dispose of their pub estates in the 1980s. This was intended to lead to greater competition in the licensed trade but it might be argued that it marked the beginning of the continuing downward spiral.
When pubs close they rarely reopen. Frequently they are sold off and converted to other commercial or residential uses. Just as frequently they are demolished to create land for development or stand derelict until such an opportunity presents itself. Consequently with each closure communities lose an amenity that is unlikely to be replaced.
One pub currently under threat is the Phene Arms in Chelsea. Developer Robert Bourne bought the 160 year old pub 10 years ago and he has recently submitted a planning application to convert it into a £5 million private home. The plans, which include a swimming pool and a sauna in the cellar, were rejected by Kensington and Chelsea Council but an appeal is already underway.
The campaign against the closure of the pub, once described by legendary footballer George Best as his ‘office,’ has some high profile supporters. Actor Hugh Grant, musician Mark Knopfler and former England defender Sol Campbell are among more than 1,200 people who have signed a petition opposing the application.
Speaking about his support for the campaign Hugh Grant said that the closure of the Phene Arms would be “detrimental” to the district where “there are almost no places left to socialise.” Dr James Thompson, speaking on behalf of the King’s Road Residents’ Association, added; “We are losing so many pubs in London. We must preserve this one.”
On the blog Kings Road Rocks, Chelsea Girl highlights the number of iconic commercial properties in the district that have been converted to residential use. She argues that this trend has robbed the area of a lot of its unique charm and urges her readers to help save local institutions like the Phene, “because without them,” she says,” we lose our character.”
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