THE recent news that Otley’s pubs are to be recognised as assets of community value is something to be warmly welcomed.
The town has a vibrant drinking scene; its varied pubs and bars cater for a huge, thirsty clientele and punters flock here for nights out and pub crawls.
There is now talk of this recognition being extended to pubs across Leeds – and again this is good news.
The pub is the very definition of an asset of community value. At the very simplest level, the pub is a home from home, a haven from the cares of the world, a place to meet and mix and socialise, and in many places the heart of community life.
I could name plenty – the Devon in Cross Gates, the Abbey in Newlay and the Chemic in Woodhouse are the first three that come to mind – which are absolutely at the heart of their communities and the focus for everything that happens locally.
Of course they should be recognised as such.
Yet for this designation to actually mean anything, it must translate into something concrete, and afford those premises proper protection from the developers, the demolition men and anyone who sees in these places the chance to make a swift buck.
Leeds has already lost too many fine old pubs for me to believe that this designation by one hand of the city council would protect anyone from the careless actions of the other.
Look around. Just look at Woodhouse. That the Swan With Two Necks had a lively clientele and a fascinating name, that the Beer Exchange served a great range of ales, that the Bricklayers served the finest ploughman’s lunch in all of England were not enough to stop them being re-invented as flats and houses.
The Chemic is the only one to survive, yet in the same week the council granted this designation to Otley’s pubs, the Chemic received a crippling increase in its business rates from the same authority. Where’s the consistency, where’s the sense?
The big pub-owning companies are not without some responsibility here themselves. I have heard from too many licensees who find rents and barrel prices being pushed upwards, to believe that these companies really have the community interest at heart.
Pricing customers out of the market, strengthens their case that the pub should be demolished or re-used, allowing them to cash in on the building or the land.
Too many other fine old pubs have gone. The lovely old Rising Sun was a grim antiques warehouse the last time I drove along Kirkstall Road; the beautiful art deco Beech was standing like a sad boarded up relic when I was last in Wortley.
In south Leeds, the Junction, Malvern, Mulberry and King’s Arms have closed, not to mention Beeston’s landmark Blooming Rose, a favourite ‘pie and peas and a pint’ stop before a trip to Elland Road. Others have been wiped out completely. Two great old Irish pubs, the White Stag in North Street and nearby Maguires in Regent Street have both been flattened. Florence Nightingale exploded.
I always loved the City of Mabgate, perhaps the only pub in Britain whose name celebrated its historic role in the red light district. A ‘Mab’ was a prostitute; Mabgate was where you would come to find them.
The old story that the pub was connected by tunnel to the Parish Church, to enable the clergy easy access to some illicit pleasures is probably apocryphal, but I love the idea. The Mabgate is just flats now.
If these were museums or churches or parks, architecturally interesting or historically significant, they would be protected by statute. Any threat to their future would rightly spark moral outrage. Pubs deserve every ounce of this same protection.