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TIME PLEASE; Increasing number of pubs are forced to close.

Byline: By GARETH DEIGHAN Industrial Reporter

IT'S one of the fine British traditions, but popping down to your local boozer for a swift pint is coming increasingly under threat.

As alcohol prices rise, the cost of supermarket drink drops and the smoking ban continues, some licensees are being left with no choice but to shut up shop for good.

Official figures from the British Beer and Pub Association estimates that four pubs shut down every day - that's 14 times faster than in 2005.

Less pints are being poured per year and, according to website Businessesforsale.com, today there are 93 pubs and bars across the region that are currently looking for new owners including the Percy Arms at Tynemouth, Ye Olde Cross Inn at Ryton, and the Queens Head and The Ballarat, both in North Shields.

Today publicans working in the North East said they were not surprised by the figures.

Dave McDermott, bar manager at the Tynemouth Lodge - which last week welcomed William Hague through its doors - in Tynemouth says, while they are still doing well, he has also noticed the change in the pub market.

Mr McDermott, who has worked at the pub for more than 15 years, said: "We have seen a difference in trade recently and I know of six pubs in the Tynemouth area that have changed hands.

"We are down slightly, not financially because of the price increases, but we sell less beer in terms of gallons than we used to. I think there are three main reasons why some pubs are struggling. The first is the smoking ban, the second is differing financial conditions and the third is the cheap alcohol from supermarkets.

"They are all combining to encourage people not to go to the pub. We are a strong pub and we can see a difference. The problems come when you are weaker and then conditions change."

And Heather Bell, who runs Bar Fleet Street in Newcastle city centre, said: "There has certainly been a change and lots of licensees are leaving this behind. I know a few who have just upped and left.

"For us, the weekend trade is still the same but we have lost and are losing out on lunchtimes. Now people are looking for more than just a place to drink and that's why so many places are going under."

The figures from the British Beer and Pub Association say there are just over 57,000 pubs in Britain today - compared with 69,000 in 1980.

Earlier this week Punch Taverns, the biggest chain of pub operators in the country, said they had reduced numbers of pubs by 9%.

And the company said the reason their profit margins increased by only a percentage point over an entire year was because of tough trading conditions.

Premium Bars and Restaurants, formerly Ultimate Leisure, said this week that in the course of changing the make-up of the company, they have sold four bars in Newcastle's Bigg Market and, after deciding to concentrate more on their Living Room restaurants, are moving their headquarters to Manchester.

Dr Lee Barron, a lecturer in sociology as well as media and communications, said: "I agree that cheaper supermarket alcohol, more expensive pints and the smoking ban will have had an effect on pubs.

"But, as well as that, there is also the fact that people now have sophisticated technology in their home and don't need to go out as much. People have huge HD televisions and enjoy spending time at home more than in the past.

"The trends might change in the future, though."

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DIFFERENCE: Dave McDermott, bar manager at the Tynemouth Lodge hotel, says he has noticed a change in the pub market PICTURES: IAIN BUIST www.icNewcastle.co.uk/buyaphoto ref: 01292435; PULLING LESS PINTS: The Queens Head and The Ballarat
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 1, 2008
Words:639
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