Bars and urban planning in the UK

Petr V. Ivanov March 2, 2020

Bars and urban planning in the UK

City planners look at the world a little bit differently than normal people. So when it comes to bars and pubs, they don't think about their favorite sort of beer.

They are much more interested in economic issues, land relations and the intensity of land use over time. In this article we'll talk about how planners work with these issues in the pub's home country - Great Britain.

In the period after World War II, first American and then European cities faced the phenomenon of urban sprawl. Around the traditional urban centers began to grow endless suburbia.

Single-family home, garage for cars, lawn, neighborhood intrigues in the spirit of "Desperate Housewives". This development scenario seemed comfortable, fair and logical, until researchers and planners found that among other effects of sprawl, we see the decline of urban centers.

Suburbia resident, having finished work in the city at 6 or 8 pm, gets on a car and goes home to spend time with his family watching TV. The lively city centre becomes deserted after 8 pm. This may seem normal to some, but for the city planner it is a catastrophically inefficient use of expensive land.

According to estimates of the Association of British Municipalities, the evening and night economy enterprises - bars, pubs and clubs - bring to the budget of the country annually about 60 billion pounds. This is due to the fact that in the 90s of XX century, British planners have adopted the idea of Jane Jacobs, the founder of the flow of "new urbanism". As an example of urban environment, Jacobs and her followers saw a cozy city street, along which there are middle-storey houses, the ground floors of which are located in many small bakeries, cute shops and friendly pubs. If you translate this into urban planning, it means that the mono-functional use of areas has been replaced by mixed use of areas. And of course, Jane Jacobs' dream city needs to be walked around to see all the showcases, sit in every coffee shop and have a drink in every bar.

The economic effect of intensifying the use of urban centers did not take long to wait. However, already in the 00's it became clear that the idyllic image of the street ballet of the new urbanism is not as comfortable as it seemed. British researchers Marion Roberts and Galina Gornostaeva discovered in their research that the emergence of new bars and pubs has its benefits. Thus, 46.1% of British city officials say that it increases the attractiveness of the streets, and 37.1% are happy to see new jobs in their areas. At the same time, 74.2% tend to think that the development of bars and pubs in their areas is a serious problem. Thus, 52.8% believe that it leads to congestion of evening and night public transport, 33.7% complain about dirt and garbage, and 30% note an increased sense of danger in the streets and dissatisfaction with the asocial behavior of visitors. Some noted in a positive way that pubs and bars attract tourists, while others were dissatisfied.

Thus, for urban planners and city managers, bars are objects that place a strain on transport infrastructure, housing and utilities services and, to a lesser extent, on police and medicine. Urbanist Jacob Schmidt, one of the founders of the Cities After Eight project, notes a dialectical conflict - on one hand, bars gravitate towards areas with low rents, and on the other, their appearance and development leads to increased rents. Bars can be considered as a kind of gentrification agents, which arise near the well-appointed central streets of the city and attract the development of infrastructure.

The gentrification of cities around the world means that small local pubs and bars are unable to pay the increasing rent and have to close. In the UK, for example, over a quarter of establishments have closed in the last decade. This trend has been tried to reverse at the legislative level, in 2013 allowing bars and pubs to be given the protection status of community asset - a community asset. This status prohibits the demolition or change of the bar's main activity for a certain period of time. It is only allowed to experiment with the menu - more food, less alcohol or vice versa, less food, more alcohol.

Protective status for bars and pubs was planned as a first step to transfer them to management by cooperatives established on the basis of neighboring organizations or territorial business associations. However, this plan is not yet in a hurry to be implemented - if the community asset is considered to be just under a thousand bars and pubs - then no more than two dozen are taken over by the local communities. Also, about ten pubs have been forcibly bought back by municipalities from their owners as community assets at risk of loss.

In addition, British planners and officials are experimenting with many other tools to minimize costs without losing the economic and social impact that bars have on the urban environment. For example, the Good Practice Guide for municipalities lists tools such as territorial business associations that can take care of cleaning and maintaining order in bar areas, Drinkaware program that trains bar staff to recognize dangerous levels of intoxication, Late Time Levy - alcohol tax from midnight to 6 am, Saturation Zone - land use regulations that a municipality may impose for areas with too much concentration of bar and pub crime or accidents.

More about the subject:

  1. M.Roberts & G. Gornostayeva "The Night-Time Economy and Sustainable Town Centres: Dilemmas For Local Government"
  2. Jacob Schmidt's research and interview about City After Eight project - herehere & here.
  3. Compendium of Recommendations for the Regulation of the Evening and Night Economy by the Association of British Municipalities
  4. Feargus O'Sullivan "Weird Economics behind London Disappearing Pubs"
  5. Report of the UK Bureau of National Statistics on the economic dynamics of pubs and bars from 2002 to 2018


Log in to leave a comment

Be the first who will comment it