Today, in parliament we did a good thing.
After much wrangling and disagreement, the Government was (to their credit) persuaded to back Labour Lord Roy Kennedy’s amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill meaning that from July developers will always have to seek planning permission before demolishing or changing the use class of a pub.
This will give communities and local authorities the right to have a say about their local pubs and ensure the needs of local communities are a consideration not to be overlooked when major conglomerates want to make investment decisions.
The campaign for the new legislation, which was backed by CAMRA, the All Party Parliamentary Pub Group and the British Pubs Confederation has forced the Government to back down from its opposition and agree that developers will now need specific planning permission before demolishing or converting pubs giving local Communities and Councillors a real say in what is happening in their community.
Speaking after the debate, Toby said : “ Pubs are a crucial part of our local Community and whilst not every pub will stay open, this new legislation at least ensures proper consultation before decisions are made. I am glad that the Government have accepted the huge body of opinion that existing protections were inadequate. This now means that the rules are the same in every part of the country, and puts communities back in charge of what happens to their local pubs. This is a victory that we can all raise a glass to, can I suggest that we all show our support for our local pubs by enjoying a glass down there to celebrate this important step?”
The full text of the speech (check against delivery) is below:
I am delighted to speak in support of the Government’s amendment a) and b) in lieu of Lords Amendment 22 which will make a material difference to the fortunes of many of Britain’s 48,000 pubs, give certainty to investors in the pub trade and crucially put communities back in control of decision that have a real bearing on their community.
I speak as the Chair of the renamed All Party Parliamentary Pub Group, and also as a real pub enthusiast.
There are many people and groups that I would like to record my appreciation towards on securing this important victory. Lord Kennedy who brought the amendment in the House of Lords, and was very successful in ensuring such overwhelming cross party support that the Government were persuaded to adopt the amendment.
To the pub supporting campaign groups CAMRA, British Pub Confederation, to my fellow members of the APPG on Pubs who held a really informative roundtable last week on the many different approaches to using the Planning system to save pubs that are being used across the country.
I’d also like to acknowledge the important work done in this area by my predecessor as Chair of the APPG the HM for Leeds NW who originally proposed the motion at Committee stage in the Commons which was subsequently moved by my Hon Friend from Oldham W.
It is also right to acknowledge that in some ways the HM for Bristol NW was the originator of this with her amendment back in 2015 to a different bill, but the case she made then has been important in bringing about this change.
I would also like to acknowledge that the Government have taken the step of broadly adopting this motion that they were originally hostile towards, it takes courage to change your mind. The HM for Brigg and Goole said at the CAMRA reception that he was listening, and the actions of the Government on this occasion suggest that he was good to his word, and he deserves credit for that too.
Mr Speaker, There is nothing quite like your first visit to any British pub. I know I am not alone. In feeling that little frisson of excitement the first time you step through the door of a new pub. Pushing open the door and wondering what will be behind it. An adult version of a real life advent calendar if you will. Behind every door, a different surprise.
As the door creaks open, what will I see?
How will the pub be laid out?
Will we be able to get a table?
Who will be there?
How many people will be in there?
What will be on the walls?
What’s the bar going to look like?
Will the bar steward’s face be a picture of welcoming joy,or maybe not?
Will they have a log fire (in the winter!)
Will they have a garden (in the summer!)
Is there a dart board, a pool table, a pub dog or cat,
a loud mouth propping up the bar commenting on topics of which he has assumed a level of expertise from a programme he saw on television?
Or when it’s a local commenting on the performance of their MP and asking, inevitably, whether I’ll be claiming my pint back on expenses (it never grows old)
And of course finally, what will they be serving?
Because Mr Speaker there is so much more to visiting a pub than having a drink. That is of course the magic of it, I know my own favourite beers, and I can pop down to Morrisons at the end of my street and buy as much of it as I like- a lot cheaper than I can buy it in any pub. But the drinks are just a fraction of the experience, the magic comes from the entire ensemble.
And just as there is a magic to visiting a pub for the first time, so there is a joy to having a local at which you feel really at home. Where you find the characters, and the beers, the landlord or landlady and the décor, almost as familiar as if it was in your own home.
We live in different times, and let’s be candid difficult times for the pub trade. The days when a single publican, running a single pub, for decades at a time, was a staple of every high street are long gone. The long standing publican are now becoming a rarity and our communities are the poorer for it.
But those communities often do still have that longstanding relationship with their pubs. Whether they be regular attenders or occasional visitors, that pub is a part of their community, one that too often we all take for granted, and a feature that is only really missed when it is under threat or gone.
Before I go on, Mr Speaker, let me assure you that none of us are advocating that unpopular or poorly run pubs have a right to exist. Communities that don’t back their local pub cannot assume it will always be there. When I bought my house, back in 1998, the Terminus was my local but a string of landlords within a few years later and it is gone. The only reminders of it are a plaque on the wall that reminds us that it was once there and the local Bowling Green still called the ‘Terminus Bowling Club’ even though the pub they took their name from is long gone.
In a small town like Chesterfield I have to walk a mile to reach what you would call my local. And that is a comment on the times we live in, if we don’t get out and support our pubs, it is no good complaining when they are gone. Similarly the industry knows that they live in an ever more competitive world. The competition for the leisure pound has never been fiercer, from satellite television and a bottle at home to an array of takeaways and restaurants to suit every palette, the alternatives to a pint in the local are multitudinous.
And pubs will continue to close. But what I think really sticks in the craw of my constituents is when popular and well used pubs, or even pubs that serve a central role in a community, that may well be under poor management at one particular time, are lost for good without the community having any say about it.
Because I think it is important to recognise that the tenant in a pub is not just a business owner but the guardian of something precious in that community and the responsibility on the Pub owning business to ensure that the guardian they appoint has the wherewithal to protect the precious asset that they are responsible for running is a very significant one.
In Chesterfield we had a huge public campaign to save the Crispin when EI Group (previously known as Enterprise Inns) wanted to sell it to Tesco’s. The campaign was won, and Tesco’s pulled out only for a new developer to come along and demolish the pub and then put in plans for housing on the land where it stood.
And in my previous role as Shadow Pubs Minister I met so many groups fighting so hard to save the pubs they loved and the communities depended on.
It was wrong that a developer could turn a pub into a supermarket without planning permission but couldn’t do it the other way round. It was wrong that a building (potentially a precious community asset) could be knocked down before the community even got to have a say.
Now the Coalition government did attempt to take steps to reinforce the right of communities to have a say, but whilst well intentioned they were a little like trying to catch a flood in a cup.
The great attribute of the amendment proposed by Lord Kennedy was that it gives certainty to everyone involved in the industry. And we never forget that Britain’s pubs are a business, an industry with investors, who need certainty. The danger of going too much down the localism route is that when a business is considering an investment decision it was faced with potentially dozens of different legislative approaches and hurdles across its portfolio of businesses.
These approaches also left Councils at the mercy of aggressive legislation and expected them to go the legal expense of defending the steps they had introduced to protect their pubs.
The ACV approach has given some communities a precious opportunity to fight for the pub they loved, but it did mean that oftentimes the only way you could save a pub was by becoming its owner. There is some value in that sort of community activism, but you shouldn’t have to buy a pub in order to have a view on it.
The APPG heard from the community team that successfully bought the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham who had used this the ACV legislation to save their pub.
We also heard from Wandsworth Council who put a requirement for Article 4 directions on 220 of their locals. They deserve credit for their efforts, but the danger of using Article 4 directions is that it means the landscape is different in each local authority. It led to the situation where some pubs face having to get planning permission just to paint or decorate their pub- a positive disincentive to improving or investing in the pub estate. The approach being advocated by Lord Kennedy, and adopted by the Government today does bring that certainty and clarity that everyone connected to the industry needs. And it doesn’t prevent building owners adopting the needs of their building to maximise new opportunities, pubs will open and pubs will close, and all this will do is ensure that all the evidence is considered before these decisions are made.
I think the Government are sensible to create the new A3/A4 mixed use class but we do need clarity that it is their intention that the mixed use class should enjoy the same protections as A3 or A4 classes
I would like the Minister to clarify when he comes to his summing up:
What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that there is no or limited risk of developers bringing forward conversion or demolitions of pubs before the regulations are in place?
So Mr Speaker, I am pleased to take a few moments to reflect on the value of the 48000 British pubs to our communities. I am pleased to welcome the Government’s adoption of this amendment. And I am pleased that this important step has been taken to help communities to save the preserve the Great British pub for many years to come.
The full debate can be witnessed here https://goo.gl/ezTs6K with Toby’s contribution from 14.08