Drinks giant Carlsberg has announced plans to close a historic brewery in Yorkshire with the loss of 170 jobs.
It will leave the company, which brews real ales including Tetley’s Dark Mild, Tetley’s Mild, Ansells Best Bitter, Burton Ale and Tetley Bitter, with just one site in Northampton in the Midlands.
Carlsberg blamed falling consumption, higher duties and regulatory pressure for the decision to shut the site based in Leeds by 2011, ending 189 years of brewing at the plant.
But beer consumer group the Campaign for Real Ale called for a rethink claiming there was still a market for the beer and accused Carlsberg of failing to do enough to promote Tetley.
Carlsberg marketing director Darran Britton said the company was facing “unprecedented” pressures because of falling sales, pub closures, and increased costs coupled with the current economic downturn.
He highlighted a sales slump of between seven per cent and eight per cent in recent months, adding: “Five pubs are closing every day and it is a trend which is accelerating. It is a reality of the market – people are drinking less beer.”
Mr Britton said the company would “definitely” continue brewing Tetley somewhere in the UK, but gave no details of what it would do with the Leeds site or how many workers would be redeployed elsewhere.
About 37 major breweries have closed in the UK in the past decade in the face of changing drinking habits and pressure from supermarkets.
Nick Webb, supply chain director of Carlsberg UK, said: “We have to consider difficult decisions to remain competitive in the current environment and we regret the risk to the jobs of our employees.
“Although the business has remained robust in tough market conditions, this proposed move is vital to ensure Carlsberg UK remains a strong and sustainable business in the future.”
But Tim Roache, regional secretary of the GMB union, which represents workers at the site, said: “This is very disappointing news.
“We will be seeking talks with Carlsberg to see if there is anything that can be done to change their minds about closing this historic brewery.”
Camra attacked the decision to close the Leeds site, which it described as the biggest real ale brewery in the world.
Vice-chairman Bob Stukins said: “It is unclear where Carlsberg UK intends to brew the famous Tetley beers which remain household names in the UK. Brewed outside their Leeds heartland, I fear they would lack the provenance which today’s discerning consumers expect.
“While we recognise the enormous challenges facing the brewing industry, I think this is a shortsighted decision. Recent statistics clearly show that real ale is performing better than other beer styles.”
He called on the Government to overturn its decision to increase beer duty over the next four years, claiming that high beer tax is driving beer drinkers out of pubs.
“There is an opportunity to respond to this, invest in the Tetley brands and bring them back to glory. The Government has a responsibility to act to save British jobs in brewing and pubs and an urgent review of beer tax is required.
“We have a two-year window of opportunity before the brewery gates are set to close for the last time. We will be supporting anyone who has a plan to keep the mash tuns running in this historic brewery.”
Ian Cowling, owner of micro-brewery the Old Bear Brewery, in Keighley, said: “By the time the brewery closes in 2011, it will have been there for 191 years, so it’s up to micro-breweries such as ourselves to keep the centuries old tradition of brewing in Yorkshire well and truly alive.
“This must have been in the planning for years; you don’t just close a brewery of that magnitude down because of the credit crunch or falling beer sales.”
Consultation with workers will start immediately and Carlsberg pledged it would seek to redeploy staff where possible and help others find new jobs.