Policy Briefing: What pub protection rule changes mean for planners

Changes to permitted development rights for pubs should make it easier for councils to protect them, says Dinny Shaw.

Pubs: permitted development rights for conversions removed
Pubs: permitted development rights for conversions removed

Q What new pub protection measures has the government introduced?

A Section 15 of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 removes permitted development (PD) rights that allowed the demolition of buildings used as class A4 pubs and the change of use of such buildings to A1 retail, A2 professional and financial services and A3 restaurants and cafes. These PD rights allowed such changes without the need for planning permission and were subject to a condition requiring the applicant to send a written request to the local authority to check if the building had been nominated as an asset of community value (ACV), with such a nomination making it exempt from the rights. The condition also stopped development from beginning until 56 days after that request was made. The act introduces a PD right allowing pubs to enjoy a new mixed use as both an A3 restaurant and café and an A4 drinking establishment. A development order implementing the measures came into force on 23 May.

Q Why has the government introduced these measures?

A The measures are in response to amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill tabled in the House of Lords by Labour peer Lord Kennedy and supported by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). The intention is to give greater protection to pubs in response to growing concerns over closures of many valued premises and limited opportunities for local communities to have their say in the process. Campaigners felt that alternative means of protecting pubs through the ACV process and the introduction of article 4 directions, which remove PD rights in specified areas, were bureaucratic, costly, time-consuming and ineffective.

Q What key implications do these measures present to local planning authorities?

A Authorities should welcome the changes, as they remove the need to protect pubs by introducing costly and potentially complex article 4 directions or relying on pubs being nominated through the ACV process. However, councils would need to consider whether local policies provide adequate pub protection. Those wishing to preserve a sole A4 drinking establishment use for their pubs may also want to think about whether to remove the new A3/A4 PD right.

Q Do the proposals present any new opportunities or potential risks for developers and owners?

A Developers will now need to go through the planning application process to secure the redevelopment of pubs. This could give rise to a more protracted process and therefore delays and potentially higher costs. The new PD rights would enable pub owners to introduce an A3 use with no condition or prior notification, and should provide flexibility to enhance a food offer beyond that previously allowed as ancillary to the main pub use.

Q How effective will the measures be in protecting pubs?

A Pubs that in the past have been an easy target for conversion by retail developers will now have extra protection as any proposed use change would need to be considered against the local plan, national policy and other material considerations. Any applications would have to go through a public consultation process offering opportunities for communities to get more involved, which is likely to ensure that some valued pubs are protected.

However, the measures cannot force people to visit a pub or keep open a pub that is no longer viable. The removal of PD rights is likely to result in redundant premises remaining closed for longer while the owner seeks consent for redevelopment.

The new A3/A4 PD right may result in more food-heavy pubs, as it enables a more extensive food offer to be introduced without any controls. This may not be considered to be protecting the inherent pub use.

Q Is there a danger that existing article 4 directions protecting pubs from the old PD rights could be endangered by the new rights?

A The new PD right would not apply to buildings under an existing article 4 direction until November 2018 to allow councils to introduce a new direction should they consider it necessary. The new PD right will only enable an A4 pub to convert to A3/A4 and back again - any other change of use will require planning permission.

Dinny Shaw is a principal planner at consultancy Boyer Planning

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