Saving Pubs Toolkit - Part 1

Ahead of the Game

It is estimated that only one in five pub closures receive anything other than a token challenge from locals and regulars. Of the pub closures that are fiercely opposed, the community is usually caught by surprise. They are on the back foot from day one. Drinkers in the Castle at Battersea only found out about the sale by Young’s to Languard Investments after it had sold. Hackney folk went for a drink at the Chesham Arms to be greeted with hoarding adorned with a site board bearing the legend Ozkan Homes. In the most extreme case, locals at the Carlton Tavern were made aware of a threat to the pub by the disturbing sound of an excavator bucket bashing the gorgeous interwar building to dust. Forewarned is therefore forearmed. All pubs are potential targets for those who would seek an alternative, more lucrative use of the land and buildings.

As you read this, find out who owns your pub. Ask the publican, check CAMRA’s pub database WhatPub (available to all) or check out the Land Registry website. What is the arrangement with the publican? Is it tenanted, owner-occupied, leased, or managed? You need to understand the different business models employed in the pub sector. Registration as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) is a no-brainer. Do not think about it; just do it! By the time the pub falls into developer or supermarket hands, it could be too late. If your campaign has already begun, do it anyway but it’s best to nominate early, while all appears fine and dandy. This may well be sufficient to deter any predatory developer from the beginning. ACVs are much more than the well-publicised ‘Community Right to Bid’; since April 2015 ACV registration offers meaningful planning protection for pubs. Furthermore, the vital six months moratorium that can be triggered on sale of freehold, or 25 year lease, gives you time to mobilise your supporters for the impending planning battle ahead, notwithstanding the unlikely proposition of, or desire for, a successful community buyout. You are not making any personal financial commitment.

The role of the planning system in securing the future of pubs cannot be overstated. It is pivotal. Planning governs what uses land can be put to. All land is categorised according to common use classes, or, in specialist or rarer case, no use class, ‘sui generis’ (literally ‘a class of its own’). Pubs fall into planning use class A4 Drinking Establishments or in some cases A3 Cafes/Restaurants, and since 2012 have been recognised in national planning policy as community social infrastructure. The National Planning Policy Framework (‘the Framework’) places a duty on Councils to plan positively for the provision of pubs and to resist their loss. This is outlined at paragraph 70 and it provides the start point for all our planning objections involving the loss of community pubs. The London Plan, strengthened in 2014 with assistance from CAMRA, further encourages London Boroughs to recognise the status of pubs registered as ACV and to regard this as evidence of value. The London Plan acknowledges the important role played by London’s pubs in contributing to the character and vibrancy of the capital’s neighbourhoods. Why does this matter? Only half of London’s 33 Boroughs have pub protection policies of any kind and many that have been adopted fall short of the latest exemplary policy and best practice. Where is the pub you hold most dear? Hopefully you are sat in it now, enjoying a well-kept pint of your favourite cask ale. Is it one of the 100 London pubs with ACV status? In which local authority area does it lie? Find out if your local Council has a pub protection policy in its local plan. Check their website. Examples of very good pub protection policies are found in the plans of Brent, Camden, Hackney, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Lewisham, Southwark, Waltham Forest and Wandsworth. If your area does not benefit from a pub protection policy, then write to or email your ward Councillor and Council leader and politely point out that the absence of a robust pub protection policy renders the Council non-compliant with both the Framework and the London Plan. Furthermore it is failing the citizens of that Borough in leaving their precious community spaces vulnerable to predatory development.

A successful London pub needs key ingredients: a good operator (publican) who understands and responds to the needs of the community and its visitors, good food and drink, a suitable building which is capable of providing the atmosphere and conducive to the thorough enjoyment of conversation and beer. While CAMRA embraces the micropub revolution, we equally value and cherish our historic pubs, evolved over many years from historical beer houses, inns and taverns. We want to see all thrive with full diversity and choice in the market. This can only happen if the planning system safeguards these pub uses against the more profitable alternatives, chief amongst which are residential and retail. An unrestrained free market would, if left unchecked by other influences, convert all land to that which would provide the most profit. Thankfully, the planning system exists to prevent this. Planning alone cannot save a pub but the planning system sets the essential framework that will allow pubs to thrive.

We’ve often proclaimed in these pages that a bad pub is merely a potentially good pub waiting to be re-launched. Who is to judge what constitutes a good and bad pub? This is a subject of an engaging debate, best held in a pub. Developers do not only target the so-called bad pubs; all pubs are threatened. Recall that the City Pride in Canary Wharf sold in 2012 for £35 million. The popular and highly profitable Spirit Group-owned Black Lion on Bayswater Road changed hands at the end of 2014 for £27 million. Punch managed to persuade a developer to part with £3.2 million for the much-loved Kensington Park Hotel in Ladbroke Grove. Indebted Enterprise Inns sold the award-winning Eagle Ale House in Battersea to an investment company although they currently lease back the site and sub-let it to legendary local heroes Simon and Dave. Do not think for one moment that any pub is safe. Without planning protection, there is no long-term future for pubs.

When battle commences, it really is a question of sheer weight of numbers. The more supporters in your network, the better but I will cover those tactics in a later issue. For now, gather information. Find out about your local pub. Who owns it? Who runs it? Any heritage aspects of the building? Is the building statutorily (Grade II or Grade II*) listed? Is it locally listed? Is the pub in a conservation area? Are there any celebrity connections? Who uses the pub? What is the Council policy on pubs? Who are the Ward Councillors?

We love all of the 4,000-odd pubs in our region but we cannot be everywhere at once (if only!). Gather this information and use it to form the basis of your ACV nomination. Your local CAMRA branch can help and advise and even assist with administrative costs. With all this information in place, you will be ahead of the game should you find yourselves in the unenviable position of trying to save your pub from developers. In Saving Pubs Toolkit - Part 2 we will discuss how to form a campaign, what needs to be done and by whom and how to ready your team for the inevitable long struggle ahead. Never fear, help is at hand.