Shocking new figures show that one in five of Leeds’ pubs have closed in the past decade – but the city is still “ahead of the game,” experts say, with a huge boom in new industries.
A total of 22 per cent of all Leeds pubs have closed since 2007, analysis of new figures has found, with the value of the land they occupy worth far more as a shop or housing. But the city has much to be positive about, a Camra expert has said, as with the decline of the traditional pub comes a huge boom in the area’s bars, clubs, and craft ale industries.
Big cities have taken the biggest hit when it comes to numbers of pub closures, new figures have revealed, but in Leeds it has made way for a huge resurgence in craft ale and other industries.
More than one in five pubs in the city has closed since 2007, the CAMRA figures show, with 122 - more than 22 per cent - closing in the city in the past decade. But the region’s bars are thriving, CAMRA has added, as it shows how Yorkshire’s cities have adapted to a change in demand. And across the region, there has been a huge boom in the popularity of small-scale breweries.
“We’ve reason to be positive,” said Richard Coldwell, from Leeds CAMRA. “Leeds is thriving, and evolving, and changing.
“The CAMRA statistics show the decline of pubs, but they don’t show what’s happening with bars. It’s seems that for those that shut down in Leeds, another pops up.
“The city is thriving. People are coming here for a drink. But it’s prosecco, and gin, and craft ales. Leeds is ahead of the game.”
Mr Coldwell said the traditional city centre pub is now often a thing of the past.
“There are different fractions of drinkers emerging,” he said. “It’s a totalling different clientèle. East Street, in the 1980s, was almost an alternative city centre. They were all quite traditional pubs, all heaving.
“The Duchess of York, on Vicar Lane, rumoured to have hosted Nirvana, Cold Play, Radiohead, even the Sex Pistols in its day, was legendary. Now, it’s a clothes shop.
“The Nags Head, on Vicar Lane, is now a betting shop. The Rising Sun, on Kirkstall Road. That is a pub of real architectural value, which is now a furniture shop.
“But then we have Tapped on Boar Lane, which opened up. Look at North Bar - they were the original craft beer bar in the UK. There’s Whitelock’s, Duck and Drake, all of which are thriving. The growth has been phenomenal.”
The figures show a stark divide between Yorkshire’s cities and more countryside communities, with 14 per cent of pubs across the region closing in the past decade. But while Leeds has seen a renaissance in craft and ale industries to replace these lost traditions, experts say, they have largely escaped the burden placed on more rural communities.
“These figures are shocking,” said Camra national director and campaigns coordinator Andy Shaw. “They show the stark reality of just how serious the situation is.”
The big issue in city centres like Leeds, he said, is that pubs are often on valuable land.
“If you’ve got a pub in the high street, completely irrespective of whether it’s viable, the fact of the matter is that if it were converted or even completely demolished, its value would be ten-fold what it is worth as a pub,” he said.
“It’s sad but true that it has a huge impact on the communities that use these pubs. Communities in the centre of towns or cities are the office workers who use them.”
One in six of all Yorkshire’s closed pubs have become housing, the figures show, while 12 per cent have been demolished altogether. A legal loophole, which allows pubs to be demolished or converted to a range of uses without requiring planning permission, is soon to be closed after the passing of a new bill. In Yorkshire, 17.5 per cent of closed pubs have seen such conversions, and CAMRA is hopeful that the change can soon slow down this rate of decline.
“The level of closures that we are seeing has been going on for decades and in the past couple of years has reached feverish activity,” said Mr Shaw.
“Finally communities have been given the right to oppose change to their assets.”
New powers protect pubs
New legislation is coming into force this month to protect pubs from being converted under a legal loophole.
CAMRA hopes this will slow the rate of decline and allow communities greater power to protect their existing assets.
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said: “The Great British pub is the beating heart of communities up and down the country.
“That’s why we’re looking at how we can protect pubs through the planning system and cut red tape for landlords, so local people can keep the pubs they love.”
Leeds sees boom in craft beer industries
A stand-out success story of the craft beer boom in Leeds is that of North Bar, which has seen a 26 per cent increase in year-on-year sales.
The Leeds-based bar group has reached a turnover of more than two-and-a-half million pounds for the first time in its 20-year history, with all seven of its craft-beer venues recording an increase. And as the first to bring craft beer to the city, it has gained a reputation as being at the forefront of changing tastes.
“It’s down to supply and demand,” said James Downing, deputy general manager. “Craft beer is booming. “It’s come to the point in Leeds where we’ve got four or five, if not more, really decent breweries in the city now. We’ve become self sufficient. In the past few years it’s really exploded. Those pubs that have survived have offered something alternative or unique - it’s not always about the beer but about the atmosphere.”
North Bar Social in Otley saw the biggest jump in sales for the company, up 29 per cent the company has revealed, with Meanwood’s neighbourhood bar Alfred recording an increase of 11 per cent.
“Leeds is heading in the right direction,” said Mr Downing, who said the city is thriving.
“The future is looking bright, there’s a really nice atmosphere in the city right now.”
Director John Gyngell said: “We’re really hoping to carry the momentum forward into our 20th year, which is looking to be even bigger and better.”