10:00am Thursday 9th August 2012
By Ben Wilkinson
FIFTY Pubs in Oxfordshire have called last orders in the past five years with campaigners blaming beer tax hikes and supermarkets for choking the trade.
The Oxford Mail can reveal that an Oxfordshire pub has closed every 36 days since 2007.
Licensees and drinkers say that a 42 per cent hike in beer taxes over that period has left the industry in turmoil.
Tony Goulding, pubs officer of the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), said supermarkets selling cheap alcohol, the recession, the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 and a change of cultural habits had all hurt the industry.
But he said the beer duty was now a “crippling burden” for landlords. He added: “It is scandalous that we are one of the worst countries in the world for beer tax.”
The duty escalator, which raises beer tax annually by inflation plus two per cent, started in 2009 and will run until at least 2014.
Mr Goulding added: “I think we haven’t reached the worst times yet. Nothing is safe.”
Peter Fowler, landlord of the Shoulder of Mutton in Wantage, said four years ago landlords could expect to make 59p profit on every pint but now could expect just 12p.
Housing developers are among those to have taken advantage of the decline, with at least 12 of the closed pubs turned into, or set to become, homes.
Supermarkets now own at least four former pubs, including the Fitzharris Arms and the Ox in Abingdon which were converted into Tesco Express supermarkets last year. Old Marston in Oxford has lost the Bricklayers Arms, the Cavalier and the Friar.
Parish council chairman Charlie Haynes said: “There are only a couple of places you can go to now. It’s so sad really, as all these meeting places have gone.
“It takes out the heart of the village.”
The last pub in the west Oxfordshire village of Ascott-under-Wychwood, the Swan, closed in 2010.
Villager John Cull, 64, said: “The pub is a important resource for the community to come together.
“It has been closed for two years but we are ever hopeful it could reopen in the future and continue with its proud tradition and history.”
Vale of White Horse Camra branch chairman Neil Crook said pubs were surviving but the successful ones were those free from pub company leases.
He said: “Pubs need the freedom to make the choices on what beers they buy and what they pay.
“The pub companies will pass on their increases to the landlords, however, the landlords often have difficulty in passing on that to the clients without losing them.”
A spokesman for Suffolk-based brewer Greene King, which owns many county pubs after buying Morland of Abingdon in 1999 and acquiring the Morrells of Oxford pub estate in 2002, said: “We regularly review our estate to look for opportunities to invest and develop our pubs, as demonstrated by our investment in pubs including the Boundary House and the Black Swan in Abingdon.
“We have sold three pubs in the Oxford area in the past two years as going concerns and another pub is closed pending a decision about its long-term future.
“To continue to invest in our pubs and to provide the best experience and surroundings for our customers we do sometimes have to make the difficult decision to close pubs which have become unviable as businesses, due to a reduction in the number of customers using them.”
Oxfordshire pub closures in the past five years:
Vale of White Horse
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