Opinion: Town planners’ thirst for pubs

Richard Lemon, associate director in the Retail & Leisure Planning team at real estate adviser CBRE, takes a look at what recent changes to planning policy mean for pubs

In 2012, the Government published its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England. It’s an important document, as the policies it contains are taken into account when making decisions on planning applications, alongside the policies in local councils’ planning documents.

The NPPF proved a controversial publication, as many feared that some of the policies would result in a rash of housing development on greenfield sites. But another policy crept in under the radar, one which has important implications for the licensed trade. It identified pubs as “community facilities” and said that their “unnecessary loss” should be resisted.

That means a planning application for the redevelopment of a pub – or even changing the use to, say, flats – may be refused on the grounds that it would result in the loss of an important community facility.

But strangely, whilst change of use from a pub to a flat or house requires planning permission, change of use to many other uses generally does not. So, even though they are hardly “community uses”, changing the use of a pub to a betting shop or sandwich bar rarely requires planning permission. It’s a strange situation, which as long ago as June 2009 led CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) to call for a change to planning legislation that would require planning permission for the conversion of a pub to any other use.

That would certainly offer greater protection, but whether it’s the right way to go is open to debate. Some argue that even the policy as it stands is too protectionist, seeking to preserve pubs which are no longer viable. Others argue that pubs are an important resource and should be preserved at all costs. But what is clear is that we have an ill-founded halfway house – protecting pubs in some cases but not others, apparently with little rational basis.

Visit www.cbre.co.uk/pubs and www.cbre.co.uk/planning for more information. You can follow Richard on Twitter at @rlemon_planner.

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