Our disappearing pubs and Post Offices
- the glue that holds a community together
"I received a letter from DVLA reminding me to get a new tax disk in December. With Christmas coming along I resolved to sort it out in the New Year. Everything was fine until it came to finding a local Post Office at which point I discovered yet another nearby village Post Office had closed and, with an expired tax disc, I faced a clamp and a fine by driving into town to get a replacement. It's an experience that is being repeated nationwide and across Warwickshire.
From getting some change to a prescription, a
gallon of fuel or a battery for your car key living in
the country is becoming a hazardous business.
Our local volunteer run village fire station closed
recently. Unfortunately there is no Warwickshire
Air Fire Brigade to help the farmer with hand
trapped in a combine or a metal shard in the eye
as one young neighbour. Even if there were such
a thing, no doubt a full-time fireman from the
town would not have the knowledge of farm
machinery to release a trapped arm or limb
quickly assuming they could find the right field.
There is no substitute for local knowledge and a
volunteer service run by the community.
As you may gather, I live in a village in rural Warwickshire. It could be yours because the story is the same and now the problem is spreading to towns.
Where once my village had 8 or 9 independent shops from butcher to baker and Post Office to undertaker now there are none. Older village residents and families are being forced out by mobile incomers who find it difficult to integrate or appreciate rural life since there is nowhere to meet and share experiences. Be you an Earl or unemployed we all need a pint of milk or a loaf of bread or someone to look in if you are ill or missing at 'the village end' of your local.
So why are our pubs and Post Offices disappearing when human needs have not? Some people say the internet is the cause of rural Post Office closures but that belies the big rise in parcel deliveries and shopping online. Others say that pubs are no longer needed but ignore the massive price differential between pub and supermarket and the change in drink and drive habits plus the no smoking ban.
The truth is much simpler. We all have to work harder and longer because of the rise in taxes on basic items like fuel, debts levels because of inflationary mortgage lending, increased rents and rates for pubs or shops relative to turnover and the fact that most villages are becoming dormitories because there are few village jobs and nowhere to meet.
In context of this financial gearing the death knell to village pubs and shops for the non-working half of the population comes from KVI’s and Borough Councils favouring out of town shopping whilst granting change of use for rural shops to residential use without granting balancing permissions for replacement shops and small businesses.
What is a KVI you ask? A Known Value Item is a pint of milk, a loaf of
sliced bread, a pint of beer or a gallon of fuel. Each are examples
of the ordinary person knows the price. It is KVI’s which the big
supermarkets take advantage of by running ‘loss leaders’ which
independent shops and pubs cannot compete with. Even the UK’s
biggest baker objects to supermarkets selling the product they
make with the supermarkets brand on at less than the cost of their
own label. In short, anticompetitive activity is helping to wipe out
the nation’s independent shops (the UK lost 20% last year) and
rural shops and pubs in short order.
The final nail in the coffin of the rural pub, shop and Post Office are planning regulations which make no distinction between shopping centre and village life. Most village shops face directly onto the pavement and do not have off-road parking as insisted upon by planners as a requirement for any new shop. Little wonder our village scene no longer resembles postcards of the 1950’s or 1850’s.
The consequence is that once a village shop or pub is lost it is practically
impossible for a community to replace it or for sustainable and local
businesses to startup as in the past. Village pubs invariably face
residential redevelopment or the wrecking ball as breweries demolish
rather than pay business rates on empty buildings.
What is needed is a requirement to provide planning permission for
equal business space within the same street if Councils permit the loss
of a shop or independent business. This should be backed up by rates
holidays and rent assistance for new businesses and local jobs with
grants and support to promote Community Shops, food production
and services. Businesses that make or create should be favoured over
those that retail or speculate.
To prevent demolition of community significant buildings a right to buy for the community is a necessity to stop demolition and unsustainable property development. Many a closed rural pub is a sustainable proposition for community use if breweries were compelled to release the property without abusive ties. Existing tenancies should be subject to fair rent reviews whilst ties should be abolished for tenant landlords.
With fuel prices and the tax take rising at 20% per year, now is the
time for sustainability grants and regulation of supermarket fuel
prices since Government is part of the problem and uses
environmental arguments as a justification for tax increases whilst
doing nothing about reducing the need to travel from rural areas by
protecting rural shops and businesses.
With an aging population that is living longer the loss of rural shops,
pubs and Post Offices is a time bomb for social care as children are
forced to live elsewhere. We may be able to live longer but can we
keep a car until the day we die assuming we can afford to run a car?
Cheap and accessible places to meet like the village shop or Post Office is the glue that holds the community together in most villages. If Granny Smith does not collect her pension or pint of milk then the postmaster knows to put the word out for a visit on ‘village broadband.’
For all the benefits that digital communications bring most villages, Facebook is no substitute for a cup of tea and a chat or a beer and a game of skittles."
© Alex Chambers, 2012
To read the Squisito plan for the sustainable use of a redundant community significant building click here.
Squisito's is the all too familiar story of a village with no possibility of any shops. If you know of a suitable location for a community based shop where food can be produced and sold onsite for Squisito to move to email Sara by clicking here.
To download this article click here.
Monks Kirby Village Store c. 1965