Large pub companies should stop buying packages of pubs and instead concentrate on individual outlets, according to a licensed property expert.
Andrew Boulter (pictured), partner at Underwoods, has hit out at the large pubcos for neglecting individual pubs and instead giving all their attention to money-making deals.
He said he believed pubs should be treated as separate entities and not as part of a package - a treatment that he said inevitably leads to their neglect.
The news that Enterprise Inns has bought Laurel Pub Partnerships is the latest in a series of such deals that have been made this year.
Many experts have predicted that deals of this type will continue to shape the pub market in the months to come - and so far 2002 seems to be living up to expectations.
But Mr Boulter said: "I find it difficult to get excited by the news that more than 5,000 pubs have already changed hands this year.
"It seems to me that the major pub companies need to turn their telescopes round and focus on the many individual pubs which have been neglected over a long time."
His opinions, he said, were based on personal experience of the market both as an agent and as a pub customer.
"I recently had the experience of attempting to purchase an attractive stone-built pub in a busy area," he said.
The pub was owned by a large pubco, he added, but had been neglected for some time. Despite this, Mr Boulter's offer to buy the pub at more than 33 per cent over its market value was turned down.
"I received the distinct impression the company was more concerned about its latest major multi-property deal and that this particular pub was likely to be neglected for years to come, to the detriment of the local area and community," he said.
He added that his experiences as a customer did little to convince him his opinions were wrong.
But a spokesman for Six Continents' brand Ember Inns, disagreed. "We have reinvented the local pub, producing real, quality locals with very high standards," he said. "They are not only appealing to regular pub-goers but are attracting less regular pub-goers back into the pub. It's been hugely successful."
It is widely accepted that rural pubs have suffered over the past few years. Last year's outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease forced many to close and the events of September 11 and their knock-on effect on tourist numbers have not helped.
Mr Boulter said he thought unless the big pub operators changed their attitudes, particularly towards rural pubs, the industry could be damaged irreparably.
"It is about time for the giants of the industry to commit themselves to revitalising the hundreds of neglected pubs that litter our villages and housing estates," he said.
"Is there not a case for surplus properties to be sold on an individual basis rather than blocks of 100 or more being treated as so many pawns in the big corporate game?"
Laurel Pub Partnerships sold to Enterprise (12 April 2002)