CAMRA calls on Minister to save high street pubs
Damaging new proposals from the Government could see thousands of pubs turned over to developers.
In 2017, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) helped pubs in England gain landmark protection, giving communities the right to have their say through the planning process before a pub is converted or demolished.
Now this protection is at risk from a new scheme being proposed as part of the Government’s levelling up plans. The High Street Rental Auction scheme aims to bring empty buildings – including pubs – back into use, by letting Councils auction off the lease.
These leases would allow pubs to be converted to other uses, divided up into multiple units, or gutted of their bars, cellars or other integral features. Concerningly, there would be no obligation to reinstate the pubs fittings at the end of the lease – in fact developers would be able to apply to make the conversion permanent.
This could be devastating for urban pubs, and CAMRA National Chairman, Nik Antona has written to the Minister for Levelling Up, to ask her to think again about these plans.
Commenting, Nik Antona said: “The goal of bringing disused pubs back into use is one shared by CAMRA, but it is vital that High Street Rental Auctions are used to support and rejuvenate urban pubs, not to turn valued community venues over to the highest bidder.
“We know that pubs can increase and expand footfall on the high street, and give communities a place to come together, but we need Government to understand this too.
“I’ve asked the Minister to ensure that pubs keep their planning protections under this scheme, so that communities can still have their say.”
Dehenna Davison MP
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
2 Marsham Street
11 May 2023
Dear Dehenna Davison,
I am writing to you as the National Chairman of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, regarding the proposals for “High Street Rental Auctions” currently under consultation as part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. CAMRA is a consumer rights organisation, and we represent over 150,000 pub-goers and beer drinkers across the UK.
Campaigning to see vacant pubs brought back into use is one of our core objectives and so we welcome the intention to do this via High Street Rental Auctions. I was particularly pleased to see that the proposals recommend a focus on community uses when awarding leases. Community pub ownership is growing, and CAMRA would be delighted to see more urban pubs brought into community use.
However, I must voice concerns about the temporary permitted development rights included in these proposals. It is CAMRA’s experience that once a pub is converted to another use, it is gone forever.
A pub conversion often requires the removal of key interior features like the bar, cellar equipment, or a commercial kitchen, rather than the more superficial changes that might be seen with conversion of other types of properties. I note that there is no requirement for fittings to be reinstated at the end of the lease period, leaving these venues at huge risk of being lost to the potential permanent conversion that could be granted under the current proposals. The loss of ancillary accommodation as a result of allowing sub-division of a premises would also make the return to pub use less likely, as the venue may be less financially viable or less attractive to a skilled licensee.
Recent changes to the planning system have purposely retained the distinction between pubs and the types of properties contained in Class E. To roll back the protection granted against conversion or demolition in 2017, and the creation of new planning use classes in 2020/21, by allowing interchange between these uses seems contrary to this legislation. Many Local Planning Authorities also have policies within their Local Plans which specifically guard against the unnecessary loss of valued community facilities like pubs.
Simply, the permitted development aspect of these proposals seems to run counter to the approach taken to pubs in other areas.
The belief that pubs have huge value as social and community hubs, and that they add to the rejuvenation of high streets, is core to CAMRA’s campaigning work. These proposals have the potential to transform town centre pubs for the better, provided that pubs remain in their use class with their planning protections intact.
I urge you to ensure that our nations pubs are safeguarded for generations to come, and that permitted development rights are not reinstated.
CAMRA National Chairman