Which London borough has the worst pubs? An important CityMetric investigation

Mmmmmm beer. Image: Getty.

There are countless ways of ranking different parts of London from best to worst: transport links, crime rates, does it have a Wimpy, etc. But only one truly matters: are the pubs crap or not?

To start this investigation, we need a list of all the pubs in London – and the Greater London Authority helpfully keeps a list of all 4000+ of the city’s pubs as part of its ‘Cultural Infrastructure map’, curated by the Campaign for Real Ale (well, just the pubs bit of it, I assume). The list doesn’t appear to be 100 per cent up-to-date, but to be fair, keeping up with pub closures and name changes would probably be a full-time job. But does allow us to get a reasonably representative view of how London’s pubs are distributed. For example:

Which borough has the most pubs?

Colour scale of ‘head’ to ‘beer’ where head indicates not many pubs and ‘beer’ indicates lots of pubs.

If raw numbers are what matters to you, Westminster is where it’s at, with more than 10 per cent of London’s pubs. Barking & Dagenham has the fewest, with just 29 to serve an entire borough.

Which borough has the most pubs per square mile?

Number represents the number of pubs per square mile in the borough.

If you break it down by area, The City – yes okay, not technically a borough, have a sweetie – stands out way ahead of everywhere else, packing over 200 pubs into The Square Mile. (It’s actually slightly larger than one square mile, explaining the slight discrepancy between the count and the count per square mile.)

Which borough has the most pubs per person? Or 10,000 people, for the purposes of this map?

Number represents the number of pubs per 10,000 people who live in the borough.

The City also wins on pubs per 10,000 residents, because only about four people live there. The inner London boroughs do much better here, and being in West London and on the river seems to help sustain a greater number of pubs.

Boroughs not specific enough?

Here’s the city broken up into square mile chunks that are coloured according to how many pubs in each one. Looking at this, the Thames also seems to help in southeast London to an extent – Greenwich’s pubs certainly seem to have clustered along the river.

(Note: this map is slightly unfair on places on the fringes of London where, plausibly, you might e.g. have several excellent locals that are in, for example, Essex. Well, some pubs, at least.)

But where are London’s shittest pubs?

Ah, some kind of “connoisseur” who doesn’t measure pubs by weight, is it? Taking the GLA’s list of pubs and matching as many of them as possible to reviews on Google and TripAdvisor, here is the average rating (out of 5) per pub in each borough.

Sorry, Barking & Dagenham, but you officially have the shittest pubs in London, at least according to the sort of people who review pubs online – 3.64 out of 5 on average.

To be fair, this doesn’t include the future shipping crate-based bars promised by the pictures on the website for the Barking Riverside development, which could turn out to be London’s most highly regarded drinking establishments, what with their excellent views of... erm, Thamesmead and Crossness Sewage works.

Lewisham, on the other hand, is the king of the boroughs when it comes to pubs, with 4.18 out of 5 on average. Although there’s always the possibility that people who go drinking in Lewisham just have really low standards.

Except, hmm. Because if we look at just the 1 star reviews, sure, Barking & Dagenham does have the highest proportion (15.7 per cent), and Lewisham has one of the lowest (7.7 per cent)

Numbers represent the percentage of 1 star reviews for pubs in the borough.

But there are a higher proportion of 5 star reviews to be found in boroughs other than Lewisham (46.1 per cent) – notably Bromley and Haringey which are both near the 60 per cent mark.

Numbers represent the percentage of 5 star reviews for pubs in the borough.

And B&D has far from the lowest proportion of 5 star scores, beating Newham, Enfield, Croydon, Hounslow and Havering.

So while you’re more likely to have a bad time in a Barking & Dagenham pub than anywhere else in London, you will have a higher chance of having a really good time than in say, Croydon.

They should put that on the “Welcome to our borough” signs.



Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.

The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.