THE news that a well-known Stockton pub was to be rebranded as PoundPub was reported across the UK after The Northern Echo broke the story. Chris Webber sank a (£1.50) pint on its first day of trading.

CAROL Harris shakes her head as she contemplates the region’s first PoundPub.

“My dad’s brother used to run that place,” the 68-year-old says. “It was a respectable old pub, The White Hart. Selling beer that cheap will be bad for the town, it’ll attract the wrong crowd. It’s all wrong.”

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It’s a strong opinion, but Mrs Harris is not alone in holding it.

Since the news that the new pub would be selling halves at £1 and pints at £1.50 was reported, Stockton Borough Council, alcohol awareness campaigners, politicians and other publicans have queued up to condemn the move as cheapening the image of the town and promoting irresponsible drinking.

After all the hullaballoo you would expect a scene akin to the Wild West when entering the premises. Instead, at least at 3pm on a Monday, there was a quiet atmosphere with no music or blaring TV in the Dovecot Street bar.

About 15 to 20 mainly middle-aged people were enjoying a drink, more than might usually be expected at that time on a working day.

“Put it this way,” said a barmaid, “we’ve normally gone through one tray of glasses, today we’ve gone through four.” The bar tender said the pub had sold the same amount of beer by mid-afternoon than it had the whole day the previous week.

Sitting in one of the pub’s booths, Joe White, the pub manager, said the increase in trade had been pleasing, but wasn’t dramatic.

He said: “We’ve given the place a lick of pint and put new signs up, no more than that. I’d say we’ve had a few more people in and they’ve been all kinds of people. We’ve already opened one near Manchester and we found it’s older people who are coming in.

"It seems to be the same here so far. We’re not going to serve anybody who is drunk, and we promote only responsible drinking.”

Certainly PoundPub, formerly the mid-market Georgia Brown’s, is no dingy backstreet bar but is bright and modern looking. 

But the seemingly safe drinking environment is still raising concerns among the town’s leaders. Coun Jim Beall, Stockton council’s cabinet member for health, said: "We know our borough has higher than average rates of hospital stays for alcohol-related harm...The sale of cheap alcohol in this pub, and indeed anywhere, does nothing to help us tackle these issues.”

The pub's owners, Here For Your Hospitality Ltd, has applied to vary its licence to sell alcohol at 8am, another move which has also raised concerns in the town.

It closes at 10pm on weekdays and 11pm at weekends.

Meanwhile, at least four times as many people were drinking at a nearby Wetherspoons pub, The Thomas Sheraton, this afternoon (Monday), despite a pint of Fosters being sold at £2.05 a pint, 55p more than PoundPub.

Price, clearly, isn’t everything.