As the festive season gets into full swing, merry-makers are urged to lend a hand to Luton’s last remaining pubs over the Christmas period.
Luton’s once lively pub scene has dwindled from around its heyday of 325 to just 43 venues, with five believed to have closed during the ‘Beast From the East’ cold weather in March this year.
To ease the problem, Luton Borough Council has appointed its very own ‘Night Mayor’, Cllr Mark Rivers, to help drum up Luton’s nightlife.
Sarah Hall, infrastructure director at Luton Borough Council, said: “Pubs are a vital element of the mix of leisure and entertainment on offer in any town centre, including here in Luton, and we are not alone in the challenges we as a community face to keep them thriving.
“But earlier this year, we were proud to join more than 70 town centres awarded Purple Flag status - a sought after accreditation for towns and cities that provide a vibrant mix of dining, entertainment and culture, while promoting the safety and wellbeing of visitors and residents.
“We continue to work hard to raise standards, ensure visitors feel safe and reward our well-run premises. Luton Safe together with partners including the council, Police Fire Service and Luton BID are currently in process of delivering the Best Bar None scheme with the assessments being completed for 13 premises primarily in the town centre and the awards evening will be held this coming January.”
But others are not convinced.
Tina Haynes, director of a company which owns the Misfits Lounge on Chapel Street, previously known as The California Inn, says that changing habits and soaring costs are hitting smaller pubs hard.
She stated: “The cost of PPL and PRS [music licence] have impacted on trade... In my case, in order to have a DJ just three nights a week, the bill has nearly trebled. That’s unaffordable.”
Ms Haynes said that while larger pubs were able to offer discounts, “most small businesses don’t have that luxury”.
She added: “The biggest single thing to affect the industry is changing attitude, along of course with smoking.
“As a direct result of the changes, what were successful nightclubs shut almost overnight as customers either remained in pubs or ventured home.”
Ms Haynes cited other issues such as stagnating wages, online dating and the pull of larger towns such as Watford and Milton Keynes, as detrimental to Luton’s pub trade.
She added: “I spoke to a major beer wholesaler in this town who described the situation as dire. He’s seeing 60 percent fall in orders from outlets this year.
“If, as I suspect, the operators were only just making ends meet, then it’s my prediction that come January 2019 more places will shut their doors and not reopen.
“You only have to look around at the number of places that have shut... I know a number of landlords are only waiting on their lease to end so they can get out and for some, that cannot come soon enough.
“I think the ‘Night Mayor’ really has a ‘nightmare’ of a job if he’s going to revitalise the town. There are 43 pubs left, if there are 23 this time next year I think I’ll be surprised.”
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