I was very depressed to read the news in the Wilts Gazette last week (18th June) about several pubs in surrounding villages likely to close as pubs and re-open as private housing. Valuable community assets will have been lost forever.
A similar thing has been happening in Marlborough town for many years now : the Marlborough Town Guide of 2014 listed the seven pubs that had closed up to that date since the War.
The Guide also lists the twelve pubs still going in Marlborough and Manton in 2014.
However since 2014 several have disappeared. The Queens’ Head in St Martins seems closed and the Conservative Club has closed with a change of use application. The Con Club used to be a popular watering hole for locals. This disappearance of a “Club” happened before with the closure and sale of the British Legion Club in St Martin’s. The national organisations of these two clubs seemed more interested in asset stripping than consolidating local community centres.
The Ivy House hotel changed its use to a residential boarding house for the College. Coles restaurant (formerly the Cricketers pub) which had been trading since 1995 is now private housing.
This loss of town centre pubs to housing is a very worrying development and the planners should resist such applications.
It is more difficult to resist “change of use” applications in villages which do not have dedicated commercial centres. As the Gazette article states “some pub owners are buying with the sole aim of turning them into homes”. It is certainly quite easy to cynically run a pub or hotel down and make it look an unviable business. I can think of several examples of this around Marlborough.
The great pleasure of a pub is that it is open to the whole community and a visit means you are likely to come across a wide range of people who you are pleased to meet up with : this is a totally different experience to a restaurant. Pubs also host gatherings of all sorts of organisations and often do not make a special charge for the room but make an income from the members buying drinks and food.
What is to be done ?
I do not have any unique insights but it seems to me that a real problem is the value of the properties which makes for high rents. These high property values also make for high business rates. These two large charges on a business before it even opens its doors make it unlikely that it can succeed.
The government should consider giving business rate relief to pubs as community assets and also to charge a lower rate of VAT on drinks to encourage responsible social drinking.
In the meantime we need to support our local pubs which all have a very long history.
All the Marlborough town pubs date from at least the 18th century with the Green Dragon dating from the Great Fire of Marlborough in 1653. Let’s see them staying open and thriving !