Councillors have stepped in to try and save a North London pub that is under threat of permanent closure because of the ‘vital community role’ it plays. The Royal Oak in Harlesden announced earlier this month that it was taking the ‘painful’ decision to close due to the spiraling running costs.
Harlesden and Kensal Green councillor, Matt Kelcher, raised the issue at a recent Brent Council meeting (November 20) and urged the administration to do what it can to support community facilities. The Royal Oak ceased trading on November 5, the pubs management team claimed inflation had made the business “untenable”.
At the time, Director of Urban Pubs and Bars, Nick Pring, announced “with considerable sadness” that The Royal Oak would have to shut abruptly and thanked everyone for supporting them over the years. He called the decision ‘personal and painful’.
Cllr Kelcher suggested many pubs, such as The Royal Oak, also provide a “vital community role”, such as helping to ward off loneliness. He said: “It’s an anchor on a high street which doesn’t have a lot of other permanent settlements.”
He added: “It provides great community space, which is given out to things like the Harlesden Mutual Aid Awards and it also provides a good, safe, social place for people to congregate and meet, have some food, have a drink and get to know their neighbours. Unfortunately, the pub is under threat and we, as local councillors, are determined to save it.”
The closure of The Royal Oak is the latest in a spate of pub closures in the capital this year. London lost 46 boozers up to the end of June, according to data from real estate analysts Altus Group. The research shows that more than two pubs a day disappeared from communities across England and Wales over this time.
Mr Pring said of the decision: “It is terribly sad not just for us and the staff that work here, but also for the community of Harlesden. The business has been incurring significant losses for the past couple of years which we, as a company, have ridden out in the hope that we could turn a corner – however, recent cost price inflation and a 200 per cent increase in the cost of utilities have made the business untenable.”
Cllr Kelcher asked whether the council’s Pub Protection Policy – legislation designed to preserve pubs where they have a heritage, economic, social, or cultural value – could be helpful in this case and what steps the business team could take to support community facilities and help to make them profitable.
Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Planning and Growth, Cllr Shama Tatler, said: “Pubs are often, in many parts of the country including Brent, part of our communities and offer so much more than just a drink. It can offer a space and provide shelter for lots of our residents.”
She added: “Our Pub Protection Policy has worked for us in Brent before and I expect it to work again going forward. We are working with the economic development team looking at how we support our high streets and town centres where pubs like The Royal Oak are based.
“If you look at the data, hospitality is one of the key industries that are struggling at the moment […] through the cost-of-living crisis but also since Covid. We are doing all we can to use our policy powers to make sure we can save institutions like The Royal Oak but also creating growth to enable footfall so the business can thrive beyond initial savings”.