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Nobody wants a backstreet corner pub on their backstreet corner

People sometimes talk as if the appeal of the neighbourhood pub is self-evident and universal… but is it?

We ran the above poll on Twitter after reading this admittedly rather thin PR piece via a property news website. It suggests that the presence of pubs can bring property prices down:

The homebuying platform [YesHomeBuyers] analysed property market data based on the number of pubs in each local authority and found that having too many options for a swift pint on your doorstep could be detrimental to the value of your home… In local authorities with an estimated 1 to 150 pubs, property prices averaged £289,479. This then fell by -9% to £263,041 in areas with 151 to 300 pubs and further again to £253,808 in areas with 301 to 450 pubs – a drop of -4%… The research shows in local authorities with 451 or more pubs, the average house price fell by a further -6% to £238,163, an -18% gap between those local authorities with the most and least pubs.

Unfortunately, we can well imagine this is true. Look at most suburban streets after about 8pm – they tend to be silent. Dormant.

In this context, even quiet, well-behaved pubs might seem disruptive.

We forced ourselves to have a really honest conversation about this between ourselves. Would we want to live next door to a pub?

We concluded that we wouldn’t be too bothered. We don’t have kids, don’t tend to go to bed before 11pm and, well, love pubs of all shapes and sizes.

Even so, we can understand why some people might not fancy it. You only have to look at some neighbourhood pubs to see the ghostly traces of low-level conflict:

  • Don’t stand here on your mobile phone.
  • Don’t smoke here.
  • Don’t sit on this wall.
  • Please leave quietly and respect our neighbours.

It’s no wonder, then, that when asked by a developer if they’d object to the pub next door being turned into flats, those disrespected neighbours might say, quietly, “Go for it, mate – knock yourself out.”

In the context of the battle for The Rhubarb, we’ve been thinking about why industrial estate taprooms might be thriving when pubs aren’t – and maybe it’s this.

Perhaps the neighbourhood corner pub is doomed, not because people don’t want to drink or go out, but because they don’t want to do it where they live.

As we put it in a Patreon post on Saturday, people want licenced premises, but “Not here, where we live, but over there, beyond the railway line, behind the jam factory, out of sight and out of mind.”

It makes sense, really. People are already used to going to retail parks and high streets to buy everything else. Why shouldn’t boozing zone itself, too?

Rezoning happens from time to time, remember. In the interwar years, pubs moved from city centre slums to suburbs and outer-rim estates. Now, that process might be reversing.

As far as we’re concerned, this is bloody miserable. Backstreet pubs on quiet residential streets are often the best of the lot.

And, yes, if you move next to a pub that’s been there for 200 years, it’s mad if you then moan about it.

Still, there’s some morning coffee to be smelled here. You can’t save pubs if you’re not realistic about how they’re viewed by people who don’t necessarily love them.

Once again, we find ourselves looking at micropubs as another pragmatic solution. They often close early – at nine or nine-thirty – and they’re usually too small to draw noisy crowds.

4 replies on “Nobody wants a backstreet corner pub on their backstreet corner”

In practice, if you like in housing built after WW1, it’s unlikely someone will actually open a pub right next door. But small suburban shopping parades are very common and, while people may approve of local facilities in theory, any proposal for a takeaway, licensed convenience store or small bar/micropub will attract a lot of opposition. There’s a lot of snobbery involved in this – “it brings in undesirables.”

In general, in the present century the trend has been for pubs to move away from residential areas and concentrate in town centres and suburban high streets. Standalone estate pubs have been one of the categories most likely to close.

Interesting given that when buying a house, in my case being near a decent pub has been a key factor. When I bought my first flat in the early 80s I chose Wandsworth because of the presence of Youngs (I’m not saying that would hold good now, without a bit of research). However, property prices (not values) tend to be seen from the perspective of a seller, so I’m happy to buy near a pub if I get a discount that way AND, of course, if I like the pub.

Is there a correlation / causation thing here, though? If houses in your neighbourhood cost 20% more, that’s 20% more profit for the enterprising developer who buys up the borderline-viable pub at the end of the road and converts it to housing…

I suspect a lot more people would want to have a pub at the end of their street than would want it next door – although that does raise the question of what you’re going to fill the street with.

Perhaps the ideal housing development would consist of a street running around the perimeter of a circular park one mile across, with a pub at the centre. Or… hold on a second… a circular park two miles across, with multiple pubs half a mile in from the perimeter plus one at the centre! (Vondelpark just outside Amsterdam is actually a lot like this, apart from not being circular or surrounded by housing. And ’twas there, at a bar in’t park, that I learnt how to say ‘t Ij. But I digress.)

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