James Cracknell: Ponders End could lose its last pub. Where will it end?

James Cracknell: Ponders End could lose its last pub. Where will it end?

It’s another cold January afternoon, a Sunday, and The Goat is showing the latest action from the Premier League. The pub isn’t packed but the regulars are here and there’s also a large family celebrating a birthday in the function room, part of a modern extension to the historic premises that also includes a roof terrace.

I introduce myself to one of the staff members behind the bar, explaining I’m a local journalist writing a story about the pub, and within 20 minutes or so I’m on first-name terms with half the people there.

Among the regulars I meet is Liam Murphy. “It’s friendly, it’s a good place to eat,” he tells me. “We haven’t got any other meeting place like this. It’s a community pub that looks after its customers well.”

Terry Kivlehan, who is enjoying the football on the big screen, adds: “We have a lack of choice in Ponders End, but this is a nice place to meet people and watch football. You can see your mates. I’m here seven days a week.”

Another regular, Darren Aylott, is surprisingly honest when he says: “It’s family really – people come here with their problems and talk. I think if it wasn’t here a lot of people would suffer with their mental health. It’s like a therapy unit.”

The Goat is the last pub in Ponders End, an outer-London suburb known for its industrial heritage – it was here that inventors Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan opened their Ediswan electric lamp factory in 1886. While the Victorian factories are long gone, Ponders End remains a commercial hub and many residents are employed locally on one of the many industrial estates. In just the past five years successful craft beer firms Camden Town and Beavertown have opened large breweries there after struggling to expand at their original sites.

The area has also become a focus for regeneration, with the large Alma Estate – whose four tower blocks once dominated the skyline – now becoming the centre of a major redevelopment around the railway station. In Ponders End High Street a disused police station and college campus have made way for some elegant new red-brick flats and houses in a scheme dubbed The Electric Quarter by Enfield Council. Last autumn, a modern library building opened, while new segregated cycle lanes were launched just this month. It’s undoubtedly an area on the up.

So why the lack of pubs? Go back about 15 years and Ponders End residents had a choice of at least eight local boozers to choose from. One by one they disappeared, either demolished for new housing, converted into restaurants, or simply left to ruin.

Walk around the area today and the remnants of some of these lost pubs can still be seen. In South Street the frame of The Falcon’s old sign stands defiantly beside a developer’s blue hoarding panels. In Ponders End High Street, across the road from The Goat, what remains of The White Hart is fenced off for safety reasons – there were plans to convert it into flats but a recent fire may have forced a rethink. Further down the High Street stands The Picture Palace, once a cinema known as Ponders End Electric Theatre, which was open as a pub as recently as 2021 but is now being turned into a restaurant.

That same fate is now looming for The Goat. Freeholder Ponders End Properties currently has a change-of-use planning application lodged with Enfield Council. If successful it would leave the area with no pub at all. “There is nothing else left in the area,” says regular Raf Riz, who has been drinking at The Goat for 20 years. “Where else are we going to meet up?”

Pubs have been declining across the country for many years, even before the industry was hit by the double whammy of the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis. Last year it was reported that the total number of pubs in England and Wales had fallen to fewer than 40,000 – the lowest number on record, representing a drop of 7,000 from a decade ago. When the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) was formed in the 1970s, Britain had 75,000 pubs.

The goat (3)

A range of factors are blamed for the decline; changing demographics, young people drinking less, cheap alcohol in supermarkets, high taxes. London has been hard hit. Among the nations and regions of the UK, only Northern Ireland (35 per cent) and the West Midlands (30 per cent) saw a bigger percentage fall in pubs between 2001 and 2018 than the capital (27 per cent).

It left the capital with the fewest pubs per person in the UK. But there did at least appear to be a mini-revival in the year before the pandemic, when London saw a 1.1 per cent increase in the number of pubs, as independents led the way. A good example is just down the road from Ponders End in Tottenham, where a number of new pubs have appeared in recent years, including a craft beer venue opened by Beavertown opposite the Tottenham Hotspur stadium and one even setting up inside a converted public toilet.

Ponders End has seen no such revival. Unless the council can be persuaded to reject the change-of-use application, The Goat seems likely to be lost, forcing punters to travel into Enfield Town or up to Enfield Highway to drink a pint with their mates.

But there remains some hope. Pub protections in the planning system have been strengthened in recent years. Sadiq Khan, recognising their community value and the threats faced by developers, created a new policy in his London Plan which states that pubs “are a unique and intrinsic part of British culture”. Policy HC7 states that “applications that propose the loss of public houses with heritage, cultural, economic or social value should be refused unless there is authoritative marketing evidence that demonstrates that there is no realistic prospect of the building being used as a pub in the foreseeable future”.

Philip Ridley, a pub protection officer with the Enfield and Barnet branch of Camra, is adamant that the change-of-use application for The Goat does not meet these policy requirements. In a detailed objection submitted on behalf of Camra he argues that the pub was not marketed properly when it was put up for sale and that it is being overvalued – something I was also independently told by people in the know during my visit. The Goat’s management insist that the pub remains profitable.

Ponders End Properties takes a different view, saying in its application to the council: “Despite intensive marketing of the subject property, no offers were received and no interest was expressed from any existing pub operators, commercial occupiers or community users. Based upon our experience of openly marketing this property, it is considered it has very limited appeal to pub operators which is evidenced by the lack of interest and offers received for this property.”

Enfield Council has not quite been as quick as Mayor Khan to enshrine its own pub protections – although a new policy has been drafted the borough’s Local Plan itself has yet to be formally adopted. But one other avenue open to local people is to apply to the council to designate The Goat as an Asset of Community Value. Such a move helped save The Antwerp Arms in Tottenham, which became “North London’s first community pub” in 2015 and has been thriving ever since.

Among those to back this suggestion is Edmonton MP Kate Osamor, who says The Goat “has been part of the Ponders End community for hundreds of years” and that it would be “a preventable tragedy” if it closed. The Labour MP adds: “We don’t need this historic building to be turned into yet another restaurant. This short-termism is toxic for our communities. Enfield Council needs to step in and save The Goat by designating it an Asset of Community Value.”

Regular Liam adds that he thinks it is “good the local MP is supporting us” but “we need the council to help us as well – they need to be aware there is a need for a public house in this area”. Enfield Council and Ponders End Properties were approached for comment but neither have responded.

James Cracknell is editor of the Enfield Dispatch. Follow James on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture

1 Comment

  1. The many rich households in London like pubs that are now restaurants as they can afford them . The extreme rich/non-rich division in London explains why pubs are closing or turning into restaurants . Pub prices cannot compete with supermarket prices .

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