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Hackney ‘only borough where number of pubs has risen’ – but CAMRA chief who helped compile them urges caution

PUBLISHED: 16:00 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:48 01 December 2017

Campaigners rejoice after learning the Chesham Arms would be saved. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Campaigners rejoice after learning the Chesham Arms would be saved. Picture: Isabel Infantes

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Hackney is the only London borough where the number of pubs has increased since the turn of the century.

James Watson on a pub crawl in York. Picture: Sarah Watson James Watson on a pub crawl in York. Picture: Sarah Watson

While most boroughs have lost an average of 81 public houses since 2001 – with Newham the worst hit, where numbers have fallen by 52pc to 50 – in Hackney the number is up by from 155 to 160.

The figures were published by City Hall as part of the Mayor of London’s draft strategy for the London Plan, in which he has vowed to protect pubs.

James Watson, CAMRA’s regional pub protection adviser for Greater London, told the Gazette he has been helping compile the figures for over 18 months, and there have been a “lot of arguments”.

“It’s a hugely contentious area,” he said. “There is no internationally recognised definition of what a pub is, is the first problem.

“Some people would like to exclude cocktail bars and the like – which there are lots of in Shoreditch, so of course that bumps up Hackney’s figures.

The Chesham Arms pictured in 2014. The Homerton pub was saved following a campaign by locals, CAMRA and the council, and was earlier this year crowned London's best pub by the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. Picture: Isabel Infantes The Chesham Arms pictured in 2014. The Homerton pub was saved following a campaign by locals, CAMRA and the council, and was earlier this year crowned London's best pub by the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. Picture: Isabel Infantes

“Others like to talk about traditional pubs, and again what does that really mean?

“Are they talking about the old back street boozer, or a lovely gastro pub where you can also sit at the bar and have a quiet pint? Are those traditional pubs or food-led pubs? And when when you get a food-led pub, what’s the difference between that and a restaurant that serves beer?”

But it isn’t just slippery definitions that have helped Hackney’s pub count: it’s also the booming night-time economy and protective action taken by Hackney Council.

“Since 2012 the council has had an increasingly healthy attitude towards pubs,” said James.

For instance, he fought hard to keep open the Chesham Arms when it was boarded up in 2014. Hackney Council turned it into an Asset of Community Value, meaning it could not then be used as a flat or offices so easily.

"A lot of affluent people are coming in and buying million pound houses [...] and in their leisure time they are going to want somewhere decent - they aren’t going to want these rough old dives."

James Watson, CAMRA

But James said the council doesn’t deserve all the credit.

“It’s largely market forces,” he said. “A lot of affluent people are coming in and buying million pound houses, and improving their houses and neighbourhoods, and in their leisure time they are going to want somewhere decent - they aren’t going to want these rough old dives.”

Although he believes Hackney has bucked the trend, he can see there’s “a danger of presenting a story that everything is fine and dandy over here, because we are leading the way in this pub revolution”.

“You have got to look at how much we have lost in Hackney,” he finished. “I was walking around Well Street Common with a friend yesterday and, on every corner, pointing out pubs that have been converted into flats or demolished.”

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