Well-run pubs play a pivotal role in communities.
Aside from acting as a social hub, some pubs are branching out to offer post office and library services, filling gaps in town centres. Above all, pubs play a vital part in many people’s social lives, providing a place to feel part of a community.
It might be argued that efforts to protect pubs sit uneasily alongside other council responsibilities, especially that for public health. However, recent research from Oxford University shows that moderate alcohol consumption with friends at a pub is linked to improved wellbeing. Pubs offer a supervised environment in which to safely consume alcohol.
Despite their continued positive impact, pubs across the country are increasingly under threat with a staggering 21 per week closing their doors.
Owners generally shut pubs because the property is more valuable if put to another use. Weak planning laws make pubs a soft target for aggressive property developers as they can then convert the buildings for a range of other uses without planning permission, through permitted development rights. This gives pubs less protection under the planning system than payday loan shops, scrapyards, amusement centres and casinos.
It doesn’t make sense that pubs are victims to this loophole in planning law. The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that the loss of a community facility, such as a pub, should be resisted if possible.
This is why the Campaign for Real Ale is working to change the law to remove permitted development rights on pubs. A bill is currently making its way through parliament which includes an amendment to this effect, which we hope will be favourable accepted by the government.
Local community groups can band together to protect valued assets such as pubs by registering them with the council as an asset of community value. Once a pub is nominated, permitted development rights are then withdrawn on that particular pub. This empowers community groups and councils.
We would encourage councils to take a positive attitude towards pubs, whether through supporting local communities with an asset of community value nomination or directly adopting pro-pub policies in development plans. Councils can even take direct action by making an article 4 direction on a pub, which would also directly remove permitted development rights. Wandsworth LBC, for instance, has published a direction that would protect 120 pubs in its area from being converted for other uses.
Our pubs are precious and far too many are being lost. Councils can play a huge role in helping us to save our valued pubs before they are all gone.
Paul Ainsworth, chair of pubs campaign group, Camra