What is killing the Great British Pub?


The Great British Pub is an institution. It is an iconic, instantly-recognisable oasis of security and comfort, the world over. All pubs are unique. Yet in so many respects, all pubs are reassuringly the same. With few exceptions, one knows exactly what to expect. Everyone has their favourites. People will remark ‘that’s a good boozer’ or ‘what a lovely little pub’ often without being able to articulate what it is that so attracts them. What is that intangible, intrinsic magic? What essential characteristics make up the utopian Moon Under Water? Aside from beer, wine, spirits and toilets, the other factors are as individual and diverse as the general population itself. The clue is in the title – a Public House. Who is the public? It is everyone. All of us. Society. Community. The rest of the world does bars, cafes and restaurants, to differing degrees of success.

Only the British can truly deliver a pub. That is because it is a finely-honed mature construct. Pubs have evolved from the three basic constituents of inn (1400s onwards), tavern (1600s onwards) and beer-house (1800s onwards) until by the golden age of ‘pub building’ (1860-1900) the formula had been perfected. Little changed until the 1960s when the traditional divisions between the public bar and the saloon or lounge were tragically torn down and a new wave of open-plan, yet somewhat lacking in soul and character, shared drinking spaces was born. The old rubbed along with the not-so-old, and the nearly-new, until the late 1990s when the wheels really started to come off the machine.

Blair’s Britain offered the digital-age distractions of Brit Pop, Girl Power, four supermarkets in every town, deregulation of everything from banks to broadcasters, and within a decade, Britain found itself in the grip of the worst recession since the end of the Second World War. By the time the green shoots of recovery arrived, our pubscape had changed dramatically. At the lowest ebb of the economic downturn in early 2009, some 56 pubs each week were shutting their doors, permanently! How did we get into this mess? Did we lose our love for the pub or were more powerful forces at work, conspiring to dismantle the cultural fabric of society?

Public House Ownership

Historically, the brewers established estates of pubs in the region around their breweries. They were seen as essential outlets for their beer and in most cases the only route to get their product to market. To that end, the pubs were cash cows. They were to the brewers, what petrol stations are to the global oil companies. It made sense to invest in the premises, to make more people want to come and drink there, and to treat the publican fairly. The more beer he sold the more profit the brewers made. Sadly, a monopolistic situation developed through multiple mergers, acquisitions and takeovers until a ‘big six’ breweries controlled half the pubs in the late 1980s. Government legislation forced them to sell off much of their estates and restricted pub ownership by brewing companies. It also imposed certain rights on publicans to stock guest beers. With hindsight, it wasn’t a massive success…

By the mid-2000s around half the nation’s pub stock had come into the hands of Pubcos. Pubcos took a different view on pubs. They were no longer essential community facilities and irreplaceable artefacts of the nation’s great heritage but more benign commercial real estate used as assets to leverage credit and capital, in order to buy yet more assets, to be bought and sold in future as seen fit, on the whim of hedge fund investors. The most significant ones still in existence today are the ‘big six’; Punch, Enterprise, Admiral, Marstons, Greene King, Star. These firms, to a differing extent, act more like estate-owning companies interested in hard-nosed commercial lets rather than their self-styled image of cuddly brewers and business partners to the UK’s hardworking publicans. Without exception, they all swelled their estates to unsustainable levels during the good times and it caught up with them after the credit crunch. The only way to stay afloat was to milk their tenants for every last drop, asset strip and flog off the estate to developers. It was not just the poorer performing pubs they sold off, but any pub in the estate where a developer would offer them short-term cash that they felt was a better bet than (say) the next 5 years’ rent.

Protection of Land Use via the Planning System

The planning system, until 2012, was shamefully weak. It was strengthened in 2012 by the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and again in 2015 with the revision of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO) on 6th April which gives added protection to pubs which are registered or nominated as Assets of Community Value. Yet pubs still close at a rate of 31 each week and we regularly see planners hoodwinked by developer spin and, often reluctantly, wring their hands whilst granting permission for demolition of our heritage and culture and replacement with luxury flats or mini supermarkets and a retort of ‘shame nobody used it, ah well’. The truth is a lot more complex.

Certain changes of use require planning consent. If it is proposed to convert a pub into houses or flats, this change is subject to consent, which means the local planning authority have the opportunity to apply local and national policy, which will include some degree (rarely enough) of protection with aims to safeguard community facilities against development. But the planning system is a balance. The harm caused by the closure and loss of the community facility, needs to be balanced against the planning gain of the additional housing provision. Local authorities have tough targets to deliver on new housing and often take the easy option by believing the developer when he argues the pub is no longer viable. Councillors and Council officers are rarely au fait with the complex economics of the pub sector and the underlying reasons behind a perceived lack of viability.

In other cases, the change of use is allowed via permitted development, and so regardless of any Council policies to save pubs, they do not have the opportunity to apply them! This is why, in 2014 alone, two pubs turned into supermarket convenient stores every week. Pubs are undoubtedly worth more to their owners in alternative use. This would be true for most buildings, and indeed green spaces, parks, lakes, places of worship, cinemas, art galleries, museums, cemeteries, national parks and so on. The most profitable uses of land are derived from residential and high value retail. Pubs are marginal businesses for a variety of reasons from duty and business rates to high fixed overheads derived from stock liabilities and staff wages. In spite of this, pubs make money. Pubs are not charities. Certain land uses do not make money at all and in fact present a constant cost burden e.g. libraries and swimming pools. Yet they are important as they are facilities that communities value and they contribute to the vibrancy and diversity of our neighbourhoods.

If money alone was allowed to rule the day, every scrap of Britain would be housing. There would be nowhere to meet one’s neighbours, to socially interact, to let one’s hair down on a Friday night after a hard week. And most importantly, there would be nowhere to enjoy that other Great British invention; cask ale. That is why the planning system exists! Planning was nationalised in 1947 precisely to ensure that communities and their elected representatives had some control in shaping their local areas. The National Planning Act recognised that free market economics alone would serve only those with capital and wealth whilst marginalising the rest of society.

Deliberate Neglect

If pubs are being ripened up for a secret acution, they are often deliberately run down to an extent that all custom is marginalised and goes elsewhere. In other cases, struggling publicans with 18 months left on their lease earning less than minimum wage having exhausted their savings simply cannot invest. They receive no help from their so-called business partner. In some cases, they get wilful hindrance! The media, members of the public, politicians (with a few exceptions) and opinion-formers all swallow the lie. Make no mistake, it is a lie. It is the easiest thing in the world to run a pub badly. When pubs are freed from the strangle-hold of Pubco greed and contempt, given love, care, a little investment, and placed in responsible hands, it has been proven time and again that premises can be completely transformed. The correct operator, who knows the community and the area, and offers something that people want; that special something that supermarkets cannot offer, underpinned by decent food and punctuated with quality beer, wine and conversation, in a comfortable environment, can exceed all expectations.

Question of Viability?

To avoid the issue of turkeys failing to vote for Christmas, it should not be about proving viability, but the agent of change (developer, supermarket, care home, bookies, Mosque etc) needs to prove non-viability! The smart Councils are starting to insist on this. Many publicans have the rug pulled from under them whilst operating profitable businesses, but their figures will be misleading due to the effect of the tie and the fact that the harder they work, the less they keep, and the more goes to the Pubco. What a previous incumbent was or was not doing is totally irrelevant. If somebody has ran a pub badly, why not let someone new have a try? Pubs are viable in the right hands, but those hands do not get the opportunity to acquire pubs when stitch-up deals happen with developers. The question that should be asked is why were these pubs (31 each week) not advertised at a fair market price, free of tie and restrictive covenant, with discount reflecting their state of disrepair and the investment needed? The owners always want the highest price for an asset! This is natural in human terms but does not fit well with the big society and this is where the planning system is failing us, badly. St Paul’s Cathedral would be worth many times more as

a casino. The Church of England does not sell it because they know the planners would not allow it. But pubs are fair game. It’s wrong and we need a big shift in attitude whilst we still have some left.

A Question of Greed

Finally, the operation of the tie and the grossly unfair tied leases are manipulated to contrive nonviability where the freeholder wants the pub use erased to pave the way for demolition or conversion. Tenants with the Pubcos might be on a 10, 15 or 25 years lease, some of them old enough to be renewals of brewery leases before the beer orders of 1989 e.g. Bass-Charrington owned lots of pubs but in the 1990s sold them all to Enterprise and Punch. The leases went with them, as did the sitting tenants. Gradually, at rent review, the new owners have hiked up the rent to obscene levels and restricted choice on tied products whilst giving nothing back in support. Many tied tenants pay as much as twice the market rate for draught beer since they are obliged to buy it through their freeholder.

For over a decade, the Pubcos have been offloading pubs with sitting tenants who have perhaps 1-4 years left. The new owner typically wants flats, especially in London and the South East, so needs to try to “prove” to the Council that the business is failing. He can trot out the old line on the smoking ban, religion, demographics, drink driving laws, supermarket competition etc. He can restrict the tenant’s choice to one or two draught products and crank the prices up to drive the publican under. One developer in Spitalfields made the publican rise the price of Guinness from £3.70 a pint to £5.80 overnight to maintain the same level of gross profit, all through forcing him to pay more for the keg through a beer supply agency set up by Punch specifically to fulfil this extortionate role! Of course the publican discontinued Guinness as nobody would pay that when it was £3.10 in the JD Wetherspoon down the road. He then lost some customers; drop-ins calling by see a limited choice and decide to go elsewhere. Regulars cannot afford to come as regularly. The business is in decline. This is precisely what the developer wanted. The publican will then, in desperation, sell the remaining years on his lease for below market value, surrender and move out, quite often bankrupt and homeless.

The developer can then present an empty “failed” pub to the Council and demand planning permission for this empty, unloved, former public house. Councillors swallow it most of the time, unless there is an active campaign there to rally round and object. We have lost thousands of pubs by such underhanded means. The vicious cycle then perpetuates when folk say ‘shame all the pubs are shutting but they cannot compete with supermarkets’ and people tell themselves the pub game is dead, and consequently stop using pubs, which affects the good ones as well as the bad (there is no such thing as a bad pub – just bad management!), and the industry is further in decline.

It is not that pubs are not viable. On the contrary, pubs have been viable for hundreds of years and have mostly evolved and responded to changing consumer tastes and behaviours. What the new generation of pub estate owners, who got in over their heads mean is that the buildings are more viable when put to alternative, higher value uses. This has little to do with viability and everything to do with greed.

The Future for Pubs

The past performance of sold, converted or demolished pubs is not the story here; it’s the longterm survival and sustainability of the British pub, as a holistic institution, and how campaigners are making slow progress in the right direction. Chiefly the two measures are A) Planning Reform and B) Pubco Reform, the latter being addressed by the Small Business Act 2015 and the introduction of a statutory code, pubs adjudicator, and the Market Rent Only (MRO) option.

There are a number of brave entrepreneurs who are shaking up the game. It’s very difficult for them to penetrate this racket but occasionally they rescue a pub from the grips of Pubco mismanagement and turn it around. There is also a phenomenal growth in the opening of socalled ‘Micro Pubs’. There are well over 1000 in Britain and these are defined as traditional communal spaces specialising in decent beer with no entertainment or distractions other than conversation and social dialogue. They are proving popular and ironically one of the chief barriers to their proliferation is the need to obtain planning consent as they typically seek to establish themselves in small premises like shops and offices.

It is true that people do not use the pub as much as they did in the 1960s, or even the 1980s. Overall volumes of beer continue to decline. Social habits do change and evolve and the market needs to respond to this. Pubs are not given a fair chance. Their unscrupulous and greedy owners have no interest or aspiration in their long-term survival. Furthermore, the weak planning system continues to be exploited by aggressive developers who are able to outbid any publican who has a more realistic appreciation of the true market value, as opposed to a development hope value. In spite of this there remains a fundamental fondness for the pub within British society. There is nothing else quite like it. It is a social leveller, where people from all backgrounds, classes, cultures and faiths are able to mix in a shared space, where all are treated equally. Whether it be a christening, engagement, wedding, graduation, new job, promotion, sporting win, retirement, birthday or a funeral, life’s ups and downs are celebrated and commiserated in the pub. Is this enough to sustain them? No. A pub must be for life, not just for Christmas. The economics of the industry and the high costs of running and staffing a pub mean that for many, a visit to the pub is now a luxury rather than an everyday essential. In this regard, food sales are driving growth and in a good many cases, a food offering is vital for the survival of pubs.

The government could and should do much more to assist publicans. The tax loopholes exploited by supermarkets could easily be closed. VAT in the hospitality sector could be cut to 5% or better still scrapped! Beer duty in the UK remains amongst the highest in Europe. The National Planning Policy Framework could take a stronger lead on promoting the community cohesion derived from well-managed pubs and insist on robust evidence that a pub is simply no longer required before entertaining consent for an alternative use. Such measures would redress the market and bring about fairness, deterring developers from over-paying and hence out-bidding well-meaning publicans.

It is hoped that the introduction of the statutory code and the Market Rent Only Option, along with further pro-pub planning policies, will create the right framework for those in the most noble and selfless of professions, to continue in the fine spirit and tradition of the last few centuries, and keep the beer, wine and conversation flowing for generations to come. There is one very simple and highly enjoyable thing that each one of us can do to contribute to the survival of pubs. Go down your local now. Order a pint. Enjoy it. Chat to your neighbours and friends. Stay for another pint. Perhaps another. Buy the bar tender a drink, they work very hard. Have one more. Perhaps another. Behave yourself. Repeat as many nights as you can afford to.


About the Author

James Watson is a campaigner, activist and pub evangelist. He has enjoyed visiting British pubs since he was a small child and has witnessed the worst years of pub attrition from the late 1990s to the present day. Originally raised in a Midlands mining town, where pubs played a large part in his childhood, he moved to London at the age of 18 to pursue a career as a professional engineer. In every part of London, his local pub was closed, sold, converted to flats or demolished. After years of this repeating pattern, James lost his patience with the destroyers of pubs and refused to accept the inevitability of pub closures. He resolved to expose the truth behind the aggressive targeting of pubs and to hold local authorities to account to stop this needless destruction. He was a founder member of the campaign to save his local, The Chesham Arms in Hackney, which raged for almost 1000 days and finally defeated a property developer. The pub eventually reopened when the developer ran out of options and granted a lease to a young publican. James is convinced that a stronger planning system is vital for the future sustainability and protection of the Great British Pub. He serves as the Greater London region pub protection advisor for the Campaign for Real Ale.


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We Did It! A Fair Deal For Licensees Given Royal Assent

LSL Logo

Yesterday the right for tied licensees to be given a fair deal by large pub owning companies (Pubcos) was given Royal Assent and now becomes law. Yesterday our wonderful pub industry was given a chance to thrive. Yesterday tied licensees were just given a chance.

The Market Rent Only option will now be given to tied licensees of Pubcos with more than 500 pubs – namely those of Enterprise, Punch and Marstons.

These tied licensees will now be able to make the choice of paying a fixed rent, based on an open market rental value, and then purchase beer from the wholesale market of the publican’s choice. Alternatively they can choose to stay tied to their Pubco if they feel that is the right business decision for them.

After years of misusing the tie it will now be allowed to stand alone and fail or succeed on its merits. The beer market can begin to operate openly allowing small and micro breweries into the market and bringing variety and life back to tied pubs which is so desperately wanted and needed.

An adjudicator will be appointed to look at any unfair practices or disputes that may arise. Publicans now have the tools needed to have a more clear, balanced and equal business relationship with their Pubco.

This has been a long battle, with many campaigners fighting against Pubco abuses for over a decade. Licensees Supporting Licensees (LSL) has a long list of people we would like to thank who have made this possible, from licensees who have sent email after email, tweeted and lobbied; the public who have made their voices heard by signing online petitions and joining the Fair Deal For Your Local Campaign; beer writers and bloggers who have dared to write about the realities of being tied; organisations such as the Federation For Small Business (FSB) who have offered unwavering support and help; dedicated and tenacious campaigners such as Fair Pint and Justice For Licensees; and MPs who listened and acted on what they heard ,especially Toby Perkins MP and of course Greg Mulholland MP, organiser and originator of the Fair Deal For Your Local Campaign, without whom we would still be fighting.

Pub heroes every single one.

Media contact: Gavin Spencer 07968 146622

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Licensees’ Joy As Bill Set To Halt Unfair Pubco Practices

LSL Logo

Licensees Supporting Licensees (directly representing Publicans nationally) welcomes the successful unopposed third reading of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill in the House of Lords on 17th March.

This Bill will provide important protection for tied publicans, their pubs and the communities they serve against widespread unfair, restrictive and damaging corporate business practices operated by their large pub company freeholders.

The Bill will impact on the diminishing numbers of local pubs all over the country and help them survive. For the first time in history its long overdue protections provides tied tenants with tools they can use to make their businesses more profitable and financially sustainable.

We anticipate the Bill will now have a clear journey through the House of Commons, and we look forward to Royal Assent before the end of this Parliament.

We are keen for publicans to play an active part in helping shape the new Pub Code, and will continue to work with Government on a sustainable and vibrant future for Great British Pubs.

Media contact: Gavin Spencer 07968 146622


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Licensees’ Outrage at CAMRA Award

lsl logoPress Release by Licensees Supporting Licensees (LSL)

on behalf of LSL members, their customers, and everyone who cares for the future of Pubs in the UK.

Campaign for Real Ale CAMRA labels Andrew Griffiths MP ‘Pub Parliamentarian of the Year’

Licensees Supporting Licensees LSL objects in the strongest possible terms, even with disgust, to CAMRA awarding the man widely known in the pub sector as the MP for Punch and Marston’s for his consistent support of big business over the interests of the small independent businesses and the consumer.

That our partner in the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign could do this is beyond our comprehension and quite frankly an insult to many of our hard working members who include many CAMRA award winning Licensees.

Griffiths is the antithesis of a ‘Pub supporter’. He has consistently argued against the very urgent need for Pubco reform and changes to Permitted Development of Pubs in planning yet these are campaigns which CAMRA have energetically and actively supported at all levels.

His consistent track record of voting against the aims of CAMRA campaigns for the last four years make it impossible to understand his being even a remote contender for Pub Parliamentarian of the Year let alone Winner in what seems to have been a field of one.

Griffiths has proven a reliable defender and supporter of large debt laden corporations and developers responsible for the permanent closure and change of use to thousands of pubs up and down the country. His consistent support for big business and blatant disregard for small businesses is legendary in the publican community and nobody, but nobody who cares for the pub sector and knows anything of his track record could be anything other than dumbfounded and sickened by CAMRA awarding an award to this friend of Big Business.

It is astounding that CAMRA appears to have made the award without consultation with its grass roots. LSL, CAMRA members, local CAMRA branches, Licensees of CAMRA award winning pubs and Publicans everywhere are sickened and disgusted by CAMRA head office awarding Griffiths this honour which we believe illustrates graphically how out of touch CAMRA has become with its membership.

LSL calls on CAMRA to recall Griffiths’ award with immediate effect and urges grass roots CAMRA members to ask their local branches to support this.

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Campaign for greater planning protection for pubs goes on

Save The PubParliamentary Save the Pub Group 

MPs from the parliamentary Save the Pub group have criticised government for opposing a simple change in planning laws that would have increased protection for pubs by requiring planning permission before they could be converted into supermarkets, offices or be demolished.

 Permitted development rights allow pubs to be turned into supermarkets without needing planning permission. This has led to predatory purchasing of pubs by supermarkets- hence the scandal of profitable, wanted pubs being turned into Tesco stores without communities getting a say.

 New Clause 16 for the Infrastructure Bill was tabled by MPs Charlotte Leslie, Greg Mulholland, Grahame Morris and Caroline Lucas and would have removed the permitted developments and given local authorities and local communities a say before a local pub is turned into a Tesco.

 With 38 MPs adding their name to NC16 in just two days, rattled government ministers brought forward a concession; that if a pub in England managed to get successfully listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), permitted development rights on that pub would be removed.

 At 7.30pm last night, NC16 was voted down 293 votes to 245.

 MPs and campaigners responded by calling the concession a “modest but welcome step forward”, also saying that while it was welcome to have this limited step in the right direction, it could and should have been done more simply quickly.

 The Save the Pub group are now pressing ministers for details on how exactly this will be implemented and when before the end of March, with DCLG officials having told CAMRA this change would require primary legislation.

 Charlotte Leslie MP, who tabled the amendment, said:

 “It is deeply disappointing that the Government did not do the simple, easy thing and put pubs on the same footing as launderettes and nightclubs. But it’s not completely doom-and-gloom. The Government have moved in the right direction, and since they hasn’t done it the easy way, we’ll have to do it the harder way and get every community pub in the country to get ‘Asset of Community Value’ status. Yes it’s bureaucratic, yes it could have been done much more simply, but let’s work with what we’ve got to protect our pubs.”

 Greg Mulholland MP, chair of the parliamentary Save the Pub group, said:

 “Communities, CAMRA members and councillors up and down the country will be dismayed and astonished at the fact that a majority of MPs voted against local people having any say when their local  pub is facing conversion or demolition.  

 “All the MPs who voted against this can explain themselves to their constituents when they are faced with a supermarket taking over a pub and they can tell people that they voted for their constituents to continue to have no right to object. 

 “Whilst I welcome a modest step forward in strengthening the tokenistic asset of community value scheme that has so far save only a handful of pubs, the Department for Communities and Local Government are still passing the buck and heaping unnecessary bureaucracy and cost onto overstretched local authorities. Their argument against the simple change proposed was neither credible nor honest and the fact it that the vast majority of pubs will still be vulnerable to predatory takeover without any right to object. Yesterday’s vote has shown that DCLG value theatres, launderettes and nightclubs more than pubs, which says it all.  The Save the Pub Group will continue to work with CAMRA and others for the simple, commonsensical change of giving pubs the same status as those amenities, so that people get the right to comment before a change of use or demolition. No truly pro pub MP or Government can oppose that”.  

 Grahame Morris MP added:

 “This would have been a simple change to give communities a say and I am amazed that government ministers and MPs opposed giving their communities that say! The apparent concession will only benefit just over 1% of pubs, and with the overwhelming majority of pubs still without adequate protection from predatory supermarkets, the campaign goes on.”

Caroline Lucas MP said: 

“Pubs are at the heart of our communities and play a vital role in our local economies – so it’s absolutely right that communities have a say in what happens to them. The vote against that was a vote against common sense and, frankly, democratic values. The campaign to protect our local pubs will certainly continue.”

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Government have acted in bad faith over attempt to replace Fair Deal for Your Local clause voted through by MPs

Save The PubParliamentary Save the Pub Group

Representatives of the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign have criticised the Government, who have unveiled their plans to wipe out Clause 42 – the Market Rent Only clause – of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill and replace it with their own clause.

Greg Mulholland, Coordinator of the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign met with BIS civil servants on 18th December and was promised that BIS would then engage in a dialogue and involve the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign as well as sharing any legal or practical concerns they had with the wording of Clause 42 – yet BIS failed to do either.

The campaign have since then been working with a top pub sector legal team, acting on a pro bono basis to assist the campaign – and pubco tenants – by ensuring the legislation is correct and robust – yet the offer to work with BIS has been ignored, despite concerns that as in 2011, the Department are accepting claims presented to them by the pubcos and their lobbying organisation, the British Beer and Pub Association, with some of BIS’s arguments for amending Clause 42 remarkably similar the BBPA’s briefing document sent to peers.

The Fair Deal for Your Local campaign’s legal team have also spotted a flaw in the Government proposed new clause as well as their being errors in the revised process the Government is proposing, meaning that the Government will not be able to pursue their current new clause anyway.

The Fair Deal for Your Local campaign are therefore calling on the Government to withdraw their amendment plans to wipe out Clause 42 – and instead to agree to sit down with the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign and seek to work through any issues. If they do not do that, then pro-pub peers will be called upon to throw out the Government amendment, along with former Marston’s Director, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots’ amendments at Grand Committee, to force the Government to think again – and seek to get agreement over reasonable drafting changes from the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign – or risk defeat at House of Lords Report Stage also.

There is now also a fear amongst campaigners that lobbying by the pubcos and their trade association, the BBPA, will lead to a repeat of what happened when the Beer Orders were watered down – which was what caused the loophole that led to the creation of the standalone pubcos, by changing plans to impose a limit of a maximum number of pubs on any company and only a limit on brewing companies. Campaigners believe that the pubcos are seeking changes so they have loopholes to exploit to avoid having to be bound by the statutory code or the market rent only options – and fear that BIS are not adequately looking at preventing these.

Greg Mulholland MP, Coordinator of the fair Deal for Your Local campaign and Chair of the Parliamentary Save the Pub Group said:

“The Government have acted in bad faith over this. They said they accepted the will of the House and would work with MPs and the Fair deal for Your Local campaign on making the clause workable, yet without even having the courtesy to tell me, they have tabled an amendment wiping out Clause 42, which was voted through as the democratic will of the House of Commons.

“Having been defeated on this by a majority of MPs, you would have thought they would have had the sense to work with me, the author of Clause 42 and the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign. Instead and inevitably, by presenting a new clause as a fait accompli, we will oppose the Government’s ill advised and poorly executed plans to try to change and water down the Market Rent Only option. I hope that they learn this lesson and now act in good faith and agree to withdraw their amendment and work with us to seek agreement before Lords Report Stage, otherwise we will seek to defeat them again”.     

Simon Clarke of Fair Pint Campaign and a steering group member of the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign said:

“This is an attempt to bulldoze through amendments without the dialogue and consultation promised. In the House of Lords, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, in answer to Lord Snape’s intervention, assured the peers that  ” …we are always discussing these issues and changes with tenants…” yet these proposed changes and the replacement of clause 42 were not discussed with tenant groups and seem contrary to the will of parliament and the promises made to the House of Commons by Government that the new Market Rent Only option clause would not be contested.

“Leaving aside the clear ‘get out of jail free’ cards for the pub owning companies exploiting the tied agreements, there are flaws in the proposed amendments which will prove unworkable in a practical sense and we would recommend their withdrawal, proper consultation and hopefully a sensible set of minor amendments resubmitted that can be supported by tenant groups”.

For more information, contact Mo Saqib (Parliamentary Researcher to Greg Mulholland MP) on saqibm@parliament.uk or 0207 219 3833

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MPs seek to end scandal of pubs being demolished or turned into supermarkets without communities getting a say

Save The PubParliamentary Save the Pub Group

MPs from the parliamentary Save the Pub group have laid an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill seeking to end the scandal of pubs being demolished or turned into supermarkets without needing planning permission.

 New Clause 16 (NC16) if passed would mean planning permission is required before a pub can be demolished or turned into a retail store or office. For the purposes of existing planning legislation, depending on what they are used for, most buildings are currently classified into ‘use classes’.

 Pubs are in Use Class A4, and retail stores such as supermarkets are in A1. Permitted development rights allow A4 buildings to have their use turned into A1 buildings without needing planning permission. Hence the scandal of pubs being turned into Tesco stores without communities getting a say.

 NC16 is backed by long time pub campaigners Charlotte Leslie, Greg Mulholland, Grahame Morris and Caroline Lucas. It is also a campaign, called Pubs Matter, being run by CAMRA, who have found that two pubs every week were being converted into supermarkets between Jan 2012-2014. This is part of 31 pubs a week on average currently closing across the country.

 Ministers have long argued that pubs can be listed as Assets of Community Value (ACVs) – however this does not remove the permitted development rights attached to them. Furthermore, of the approximately 48,000 pubs across the UK at the moment, just 600 are listed as ACVs. Article 4 directions, which councils can in theory use to remove permitted development rights, are also ineffective- the process is complex, with legal pitfalls and comes with a risk of compensation. CAMRA estimate that out of 48,000 pubs, only about 30 have been subject to Article 4 directions.

 There is also a clear precedent for the change proposed by NC16. Given the recent surge of betting shops opening on our high streets, DCLG has already proposed changes so planning permission is needed before a local bank, for example, can be turned into a betting shop. NC16 merely extends this to pubs being turned into retail stores.

 Commenting, Charlotte Leslie MP said:

 “Communities across the country are seeing local pubs being turned into supermarkets despite the opposition of local residents who don’t want to see the loss of a much-loved local pub. It is time we ended this scandal and gave local people a say in the future of their pubs – that is what this simple and reasonable amendment will do.”

Greg Mulholland MP, Chair of the parliamentary Save the Pub group, added:

 “If government is serious about localism and giving more power to communities, it must let them object when Tesco come in and want to turn their local pub into a supermarket. At the moment, Tesco don’t need planning permission to do so- this is not right, nor is it genuine localism. Communities deserve a say in the future of their local people. NC16 will give communities that say. The simple question is whether government and MPs support the right of communities to have a say, or whether they oppose it!”

 Grahame Morris MP, Vice Chair of the parliamentary Save the Pub group, added:

 “The current state of affairs is not acceptable. Local people are powerless to stop their pubs being turned into a Tesco. With ministers having failed to give communities that power, this amendment will, and I hope other MPs will agree to empower their communities and support NC16.”

Tim Page, Chief Executive of CAMRA says:

It is currently possible to convert a pub into a betting shop, pay-day loan store or supermarket without the need for planning permission, making it far too easy for pubs valued by the community to be lost without local people having a say. Given the huge contribution that pubs make to community life in Britain we believe this cannot be right. The clause tabled by Charlotte Leslie MP is a fantastic opportunity to get the Government to take swift action to close these planning loopholes. We urge every MP who supports local communities and local pubs to get behind this clause and help secure a better future for the great British pub industry.”

Tim adds: “We hope that we can rally support from sufficient MPs to persuade Ministers to reconsider their current refusal to provide effective planning protection for viable and valued pubs.”


1.       NC16 can be found on page 10 here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2014-2015/0154/amend/infrastructureaddednames.pdf

2.       More information on CAMRA’s Pubs Matter campaign is here: http://pubsmatter.org.uk/the-campaign

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