Time called on pubs

Dominic Bareham NOT long ago Great Yarmouth's pubs were a hive of activity where the community's characters would meet to bang the world to rights over a pint of the landlord's finest.

Dominic Bareham

NOT long ago Great Yarmouth's pubs were a hive of activity where the community's characters would meet to bang the world to rights over a pint of the landlord's finest.

But now it seems punters looking for refreshment are more likely to be greeted by boarded-up windows and peeling paint as the town's pubs feel the strain of the smoking ban and tax hikes which have pushed up the price of wine and spirits and added 4p to a pint of beer.

At least four Yarmouth pubs have the shutters down - The Mitre in George Street, The Elephant and Castle in Nelson Road North, The Lord Roberts in Caister Road and The Crown in Crown Road.

The Crown closed on March 22 and owner Enterprise Inns is now planning to redevelop it as flats.

The Crown was popular, packed at the weekends with customers enjoying the entertain-ment, including live acts and Elvis impersonators.

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Former landlady Alison Smith said factors beyond her control, including the smoking ban, had forced her to close, but she had much better success with running the nearby Albion in Nelson Road Central.

Other factors to the Crown closure were the budgetary increase in the price of alcohol, which hit pubs harder than supermarkets, and the later opening hours for nightclubs. She felt this had caused a drop in custom early in the evenings at weekends, especially between 7pm and 8pm.

The closure of St George's Park and some roads surrounding the pub had also discouraged the tourist trade.

She said: “I fear these four pubs will just be the start of the closures in Yarmouth and they are shutting due to a number of factors. One is the smoking ban because many pubs do not have the space to build outside shelters while the second is the alcohol price increases. The only people that gained from that were the government and the supermarkets.

“The increases were designed to tackle binge drinking, but that comes from the supermarkets. As a landlady I can refuse to serve someone alcohol if they come in drunk, but supermarkets have no control over how much people drink.”

Valerie Patterson, 52, landlady of The Lord Roberts, closed her pub on May 31 before the smoking ban came into effect, but she believed the resulting loss in trade would not make it worth continuing.

She said: “We reopened briefly for a private Christmas party among friends but because nobody wanted to go outside we decided to shut permanently.”

She said she was fortunate she already had an income from flats she owned in the town and was planning to redevelop the business as flats.

Elwyn Howells, chairman of the town's Licensed Victuallers Association, said members had told him trade was down as a result of the smoking ban.

Takings were down at his own pub, The Prince Regent in Regent Road, thanks to the ban which came into effect last year on July 1. He had put up a shelter with two benches in the beer garden to attract smokers.

Mr Howells said: “There used to be a pub for every day of the year in Yarmouth, even if they were small corner house drinking holes. It is amazing over the years how many are no longer there.”

Many residents back up the view that the smoking ban and drinks tax hike were at the heart of the problems.

David Watson, of St Francis Way, regularly visited The Sportsman's Arms in Northgate Street for a drink at weekends.

He said: “I think it is a lot to do with the smoking ban. Personally I don't smoke myself. I do visit pubs and I think it should have been left to the landlords to decide whether to have a smoking or non-smoking pub.

“The pub is a part of the history of the town. Many of them were here before most of the houses were built. It is a social meeting place for the community.”

Paul Patterson, of Caister Road, lives next door to the Lord Roberts. He said: “The smoking ban has not helped, but I think people are short of money as well at the moment. It is getting out of hand.”

The Mercury was unable to contact the licensees of either The Elephant and Castle or The Mitre, but understands the former closed a month ago.