DAVE RICHARDSON, spokesman for the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), editor of the Oxford Drinker magazine and author of the book Oxford Pubs, discusses the future of our locals

THE revelation that 135 pubs have closed across Oxfordshire in the past decade – including 15 in Oxford city – comes as no surprise, as we are part of a national trend that sees 18 pubs a week calling last orders.

But there are signs of hope too, with the local scene benefitting from a trend towards community-owned hostelries and the rise of the micro-pub.

CAMRA’s campaigning efforts are very much focused on protecting pubs as well as promoting cask-conditioned ale and cider, and on October 30 it will stage a Save our Pubs mass lobby of Parliament as MPs prepare to vote on the autumn budget.

We aim to stop a planned increase in beer duty, introduce permanent rates relief for pubs and review the Pubs Code, to give tenants a better deal from breweries and pub companies.

If you care about your local pub, write to your MP now.

The figures – from the Office for National Statistics – make worrying reading. Pubs are closing down for many reasons, but the main one is ever-increasing costs at a time when drinks bought in supermarkets remain very cheap.

CAMRA would like to see minimum alcohol pricing introduced in England and Wales, following the lead of Scotland which has recognised the ruinous effect on health caused by cheap booze.

Many pub chains also attract youngsters with multiple drinks offers, but responsible landlords will intervene if they think a customer has had too much.

The anti-alcohol lobby is also gaining strength, and pubs could help themselves by serving more interesting soft drinks at better value prices.

Another major factor in pub closures, especially in Oxfordshire, is the value of property. The giant pub-owning companies, breweries and many individuals know that if planning permission could be granted, a pub is worth twice as much when sold for conversion to a private house or convenience store.

But at last some councils are showing they want to protect pubs, and news that the city council has turned down plans to turn the closed Holly Bush in West Oxford into housing are warmly welcomed by CAMRA.

Brewer Charles Wells, which recently took over the Oxford Blue in East Oxford, plans major investment to reopen it.

CAMRA also backs the Save Our Somerset campaigners who want to re-open the closed Somerset pub on Marston Road, the lease being owned by a trust which wants to turn it into an Islamic community centre.

There are now eight community-owned pubs in the county, all of which have been bought by local groups from pub companies or breweries in the last five years.

The idea seems to work better in villages where pubs such as the Seven Stars in Marsh Baldon, Red Lion in Northmoor and Abingdon Arms in Beckley are thriving, and further buy-out attempts have been launched.

Micro-pubs, typically converted from shops at a fraction of the cost of re-opening a traditional pub, are also a positive national trend.

The Siege of Orleans in Carterton was the first in Oxfordshire, and there are now two in Banbury and one in Wallingford. The latest, Oxbrew in Witney, was opened on August 18 by a micro-brewery which is itself only two years old.

Pub closures will continue, but these are very positive signs. If you don’t want to see a vital part of the nation’s identity disappear, support your local pub – it really is a case of use it or lose it.