Last orders for England's pubs?

The Castle, Hinckley
Image caption Thousands of pubs have closed in the past four years

The Castle pub in the Leicestershire town of Hinckley must have been a rather splendid establishment in its day.

Anyone heading into the town centre would have been attracted by its ornate gatework and alluring entrance.

Sadly, the corner pub is now boarded up and getting derelict day by day.

Over the last four years 5,800 pubs - like the Castle - have closed down. Last year alone, pubs were shutting at a rate of 18 a week. That's according to Camra, the beer drinkers' consumer group.

At the nearby New Plough, I met some real ale campaigners. They want to preserve their local and the thousands of other pubs threatened with closure.

"To be able to buy drink from the supermarket is great," one of the New Plough regulars, Elizabeth Lewin told me.

Supermarket sweep

"But on the other hand, I like to come out, socialise and meet up with people. That's what you get in the pub."

Since the start of the recession, pub beer sales in the Midlands are down by a third, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.

So is cost the main reason? The average price of a pint in the most parts of the Midlands is between £3 and £3.50.

Tax has increased by 40% since 2008, when Gordon Brown introduced a 2% above inflation annual rise. The so-called beer escalator now means 30% of what you pay goes direct to the government.

A housing estate just outside Hinckley illustrates another growing trend.

Image caption Business Secretary Vince Cable says he wants 'genuine competition' in the pub industry

The area used to have a local pub. Some thought the beer at the Galaxy was out of this world, but not enough it seems.

It closed down last year and is now a Co-op supermarket.

Local Lib Dem councillor David Inman led a campaign and organised petitions to block a supermarket sweep of so many pubs.

"The pub owners told me they no longer required the premises and simply allowed a supermarket to move in," said Mr Inman.

"There was no need for planning permission and they didn't take into account the wishes of the local people."

In the last two years alone, 200 former pubs have been converted into convenience stores.

It's one of the issues that's prompted MPs to debate the future of the pub industry.

"Britain's pubs are economically vital," Labour's Shadow Business minister Toby Perkins told the Commons.

"Last year, beer and pubs contributed £21bn to the UK's GDP."

Now the government's proposing to introduce an industry adjudicator to referee between the six big pub companies, their tenants and the consumer wanting a wider range of beers.

'Freeze duty'

"We want to introduce a relationship that is market based," said the Business Secretary Vince Cable.

"We want genuine competition and a real choice for people entering the industry."

But will that be enough?

"We accept that pubs will close," David Finn of Camra said.

"But the situation is not helped when legislation is against us and beer prices are rising above inflation.

"Let's freeze duty and legislate, so pubs cannot be demolished or changed for retail use without permission."

Tax, rising prices and supermarkets: for England's traditional pubs, the pressure is on.