At the end of January, the House of Commons voted on the amendment “Infrastructure Bill — New Clause 16 — Pubs and Bars — Demolition and Change of Use”. The effect of this amendment would have been to prevent the demolition of buildings classed as drinking establishments and to make planning permission required for a change of use from a drinking establishment to a restaurant, cafe or shop. This means the change would be subject to the usual window of formal feedback in support of and against the change of use and the decision then going before local authority planning committee.

house-commonsThe New Clause was defeated by 47 votes with 290 Coalition MPS out of a total of 320 who attended the vote deciding against it. Labour voted unanimously for the amendment as did minority parties. I’m not a supporter of either party so leave my politics at the door, but in conjunction with the attempted watering down of the Market Rent Option for Pub Company tenanted premises as it proceeded through Parliament, it does show that the current government is no friend of the pub. But are they the worse culprits in this story? MPs are, in the majority, self serving, looking for the directorship to feather their nest when they get voted out of office or retire. There are some good ones out there happily.

BBPA_logo_Large_colWhat about the pub trade organisations, like the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), surely they supported this move to protect our local.  Did they hell, Bridgit Simmonds, their chief executive is quoted as saying “We already have adequate safeguards, through the community right to bid legislation, which offers protection against pubs being converted to other uses against the wishes of the local community, and can also give local people the right to buy the premises” adding “It would be hard for small independent pubs who find can find small community premises difficult to sell”. Yes, pubs can get protection via Asset of Community Value declarations, but there are less than 600 pubs in the UK with this mark and 30 pubs in the UK are closing or being converted to other uses per week. And that small independent pub, it’s probably paying a fair market rent or mortgage and buying beer from the suppliers it knows and gets good variety and pricing terms from, so there is no need to sell up.

BBPA is in the pockets of the pub companies, the big breweries, not the small independant pubs. They object to it because it will make it harder for these very same pub companies to convert their premises from low earning pubs (due to high wet and dry rent) to high rent long term leases to other non pub retailers, which then makes the property more valuable to sell on the open market. Lets have a look at some of their members. Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns, Admiral Taverns, Marstons Plc, see any big pub owning companies or culprits in the closing of community pubs? I’ll not hide the fact I hold the BBPA in as much respect as Greene King and their big two pub company members and there are disease bearing parasites who get more respect than the lot of them combined.

PrintLets take a look at another more independent trade organisation, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), representing 17,000 outlets (bars, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs), although not condemning the defeat of the amendment stated “What we do not want is a scenario in which viable, economically beneficial pubs, bars and restaurants are being closed without opposition. Nor do we want to see vacant buildings being allowed to sit empty and unused”. A more balanced point of view, although it is disappointing to see that a trade at the core of the the British psyche does not get the support of its two biggest trade organisations.

A pub is not a business you can start small at home and grow into small out of town premises before eventually moving into the town centre with a prime shop front location. It is a big bang business. Wherever you are based you are immediately promising to pay the pub company or landlord £10,000 – 50,000 per year in rent before you even open the doors (making the assumption you are not buying the property outright). Then you have to be buying in fresh beer each week even if you have a slow week to ensure it is fresh for the customers you do have, then you need staff, etc, etc, etc. If there is not enough footfall you cannot move location either, you are stuck there. It is a serious commitment, and one you pull out of at great expense to yourself.

If it does work, the last thing you need is notice that your livelihood is turning into a Tesco Metro. This is why we need this protection for our pubs and this is why we need the support of such organisations.

  1. Curmudgeon says:

    It’s not exactly surprising that trade associations seek to defend their own businesses, though. And, as I’ve said before, the anti-pubco campaigners are guilty of greatly overstating the extent to which stricter planning controls would have prevented pubs from closing. The key reason so many pubs have closed is lack of demand.