Where have all the pubs gone?
4 September 2014 by James Bird
The number of pubs closing down has been increasing year on year. Back in 2009, the pub closure crisis was seen to peak at a rate of 52 per week. Although this has now reduced to a current level of around 31 per week, it is still a significant figure. One of the reasons for their decline can be summarised in two words – Planning Permission.
A big threat to public houses that are not part of a big chain is the lack of restrictions and controls with regard to planning permission. There are many situations in which planning permission is not required in order to redevelop a pub. This makes public houses prime targets for developers as they do not experience difficulties with permissions for change of use for the premises or the costs associated with these procedures.
Currently, the Use Classes Order is a tiered system with different land uses falling into various categories. Public houses and drinking establishments fall under class A4. Usually, when a change in use of premises is anticipated, the developer has to apply to the Local Authority to change to a different class. However, the Order states that for property in class A4, permission is not required if the new use falls within classes A1, A2 or A3. This therefore means that a pub can be converted into almost anything, varying from shops, through establishments that provide financial and professional services, to a restaurant or café. It is this “loophole” in legislation that makes these establishments highly sought after for development. This is best represented in the north where pubs that are being sold for an alternative use fetch an average price of £173,000 but if they are being sold as an ongoing concern they have an average price of over £230,000. It is not uncommon to see an independent pub being bought and then a year later being re-opened as a supermarket branch for one of the large chains. Research has shown that in 2010, 14% of pubs sold for alternative uses were for retail purposes and this has now risen to 18% in 2013.
With the declining number of independent public houses, there has been an unexpected effect. It appears that in certain areas of the country, the spirit of pub life alive is being kept alive and this has resulted in more bars being built in residential properties. There has been an increase in the number of individuals who when renovating, or even building from scratch, have started to incorporate bars, in effect creating their own “locals at home”. This ranges from simply a bar in the corner of a games room to some people taking a more extreme approach and actually creating a small traditional pub in an outhouse in their garden.
The Campaign for Real Ale group, CAMRA, is gathering support for people to take action. Many who find that their locals have been sold are shocked when they realise there is no legislation which helps protect against the change of use. After recent successes in opposing the previous proposed beer duty increase, CAMRA have already persuaded almost 50 MPs to sign a parliamentary early day motion in support of closing the planning loopholes. CAMRA’s campaign is being highlighted this year at their Great British Beer Festival. With increased public awareness of the loophole in current planning legislation, it may become the case that the number of public houses closing for re-development will lessen significantly if there is a change to legislation being made.