Pubs under pressure

New figures show pubs are closing down at their fastest rate ever and in a special investigation, the Guardian's KARL HOLBROOK looks at how the smoking ban, longer opening times, rising taxes, cheap supermarket booze and changing attitudes have hit Leyland pubs.

Anyone thinking about running their own pub in Leyland has been spoilt for choice lately.

That's because there are currently three pubs on the market and two others have been taken over by new landlords in recent weeks.

Also, rumours have emerged that other pubs are close to being put on the market and local landlords say they are struggling to survive.

Leyland Pubwatch chairman Chris Lee, who is currently in the process of quitting the trade after 15 years, says landlords can no longer operate at a profit.

The publican, who is selling his leasehold at the George IV in Towngate, said: "It is heartbreaking what is happening but pubs can't make any money these days.

"A pub is now closing every six hours in this country and nobody is doing anything to stop it.

"The government keep putting taxes up, levies get harder from the breweries, the smoking ban took about 20 per cent of trade away and supermarkets under-cut everyone with cheap booze promotions.

"It's no wonder this is happening. It is almost as though the government don't want pubs anymore."

Paul Fields, who runs the Dunkirk Hall in Dunkirk Lane, is another landlord who is quitting the business because of slumping trade.

The experienced publican blames the introduction of the smoking ban, which came into force on July 1, last year.

He said: "I've been brought up around pubs and it saddens me what is happening. The smoking ban has hit everyone hard.

"Last year I had to spend about 3,000 preparing for the ban with smoking shelters and things, but it didn't make a difference.

"We're at the point were we want to just sell up as quick as possible."

From a health point of view, researchers say the ban has helped more than 400,000 people quit the habit since it was introduced.

However, landlord Dave Sutherland said he quit the Broadfield Arms, in Leyland Lane, earlier this year because the ban wiped out 30 per cent of his trade.

"I had to leave the Broadfield because we lost so much business due to the ban and then the brewery wanted to put our rent up," he said. "It was just impossible to cope."

Mr Sutherland, who has seven years' experience in the trade, says the smoking ban is just one problem and he also blames uncompetitive drinks promotions at large supermarkets.

Now the publican says his other pub – the Wheatshead Inn, in Leyland Lane –- could be the next casualty.

He added: "At the minute were are still bumping along the bottom of the pond and we're hanging on for the time being.

"It is sink or swim time for the pub trade and many landlords are sinking."

The Broadfield Arms, along with The Queen's, in Golden Hill Lane, has been taken over by a new landlord in recent weeks.

No one was available for comment at either pub but a spokesman for pub company Scottish and Newcastle Pub Enterprises, which owns the premises, said: "Both pubs are good community pubs which are trading well and are open for business as usual, but happen to have had changes of leases in recent weeks."

Other pubs currently on the market include The Original Seven Stars, in Slater Lane, which is currently on the market for 25,000 by pub company Enterprise Inns. No one at the pub was available for comment.

However, Gillian Noon, who has run the Waggon and Horses in Bent Lane for the past 12 months with her daughter Bev, says high bills and low trade are taking their toll on all the pubs across town.

She said: "I really don't think the smoking ban is the main problem. The problem is simple, people just can't afford to come out for a pint anymore.

"We're in a global recession and there isn't much us little folks can do."

In recent weeks, Mrs Noon has started serving food at the pub in a bid to turn around their fortunes.

Like Mrs Noon, Lee le Clercq, regional secretary of the British Beer and Pub Association, believes pubs have to diversify if they are to survive in these turbulent times.

"It doesn't matter what the pub trade thinks about the ban," he said. "Of course it has hit everyone hard but we have to accept that from a health aspect it was always going to come.

"The ban is here to stay and that is a fact we all have to get used to. No government is ever going to turn the clock back - if anything the restrictions will get stricter in years to come.

"What pubs need to do now is to diversify their interests or they will go to the wall. Many do this by branching out into food but unfortunately that is not possible for many places.

"The fact of the matter is that we have lost an awful lot of local pubs and we are going to lose a lot more.

"The smoking ban, cheap supermarket promotions, 24 hour drinking - they are all nails in the coffin and for many community pubs these challenges will be insurmountable."

According to Mr le Clercq, 1,400 pubs closed across England last year, compared to just 255 the previous year.