The trade was already under a lot of pressure before coronavirus hit the UK, but the impact of the lockdown and the scars left by it will be with us for a long time as will the changes it will make to the industry.
Our first concern is the danger of large pub operators trying to maximise the value of their properties by trying to prove them unviable and get a change of use.
As we know a developer/investor can simply change a pub from a pub to an alternative use relatively easily under permitted development rights (unless an Article 4 direction exists protecting the pub to a certain degree by requiring that the owner makes an application and cannot rely upon permitted development change of rights).
It seems there are changes to the Use classes order in planning permission which will mean, among other things, A1, A2, A3 & B1 are to be lumped into their own Class E, along with a couple of other wild cards like gyms and nurseries. A property owner will be able to change from one to another of the uses within the new wide class under permitted development rights.
The good news is that pubs are to be considered a separate individual use and therefore ‘sui generis’ which will mean the Government has effectively put in place a blanket protection amounting to an Article 4 direction on all pubs. Any change of use on pubs will therefore henceforth need a planning application.
It may also mean that the opportunity to alter a pub into a mixed pub/restaurant use, “drinking establishment with enhanced food offering”, without planning consent may no longer be possible.
We want to ensure the new protection the Government has put in place aren’t altered to be more flexible for pub-owning businesses, something we are sure others will also be lobbying to do.
The restriction on being able to respond to customer demand and lack of flexibility to adapt the use may be seen in a negative way but it may also be a useful argument when looking at rent assessment on behalf of tenants.
This new protection is something that the Forum of British Pubs strongly supports.
We have written to every planning authority throughout the UK asking them what their current planning procedures are, with particular focus on viability. We have also produced a comprehensive viability guide, which will be distributed to all those authorities who expressed an interest, 98 of them to date.
We hope that the actions that we are taking will help to ensure that we do not lose precious pubs, because if we do lose them, we will not get them back.
Please join our “Protect Your Pub” campaign, it’s completely free to sign up as a supporter. Your voice will be help us to protect more of our brilliant UK pubs and the people who work in them!