Otley licensee Lee Pullan has protested against his pub, the Olde Cock, being designated as an Asset of Community Value, despite having been open for less than six years. He says that it is less a way of saving pubs than of placing restrictions on other people’s businesses.
Following a campaign led by anti-pub(co) campaigner Greg Mulholland MP, who bizarrely styles himself the “pub champion”, every pub in the town but one has been given ACV status. This is despite Mulholland having campaigned against the opening of the Olde Cock in the first place, saying that his role was to protect existing pubs, not to encourage the opening of new ones.
Surely this is a gross misuse of the ACV procedure, which was originally intended only to give a stay of execution to buildings such as village halls that were genuinely valued by local communities. Yes, the last pub in a village may well qualify, but to apply it to every pub in a substantial market town, many of which probably do not follow anything like a traditional trading format, is taking things much too far. Leeds City Council have also placed a restrictive covenant on the owners’ ability to sell the property, or assign the lease, which is going far beyond the original concept of ACVs.
This case was also discussed by Christopher Snowdon in this blogpost.
ACV status seems to be widely perceived as a magic bullet to preserve pubs, whereas in reality all it can ever do is give them a brief stay of execution. It is effectively being used as a proxy for planning control, which was never the original intention. The whole thing is a chimaera, and CAMRA has wasted a huge amount of time pursuing it. How many times does it have to be said that the best way to preserve pubs, as a species, is to concentrate on the demand side, not the supply? There is no way that owners can be forced to keep businesses in operation that they do not see as viable and, unless someone else is going to step into the breach, they’re going to close.
It would be more logical for CAMRA to campaign to introduce a requirement for planning permission for converting buildings from use class A4 “Drinking establishments” to use classes A2 “Financial and professional services” and A1 “Shops”. If people do value pubs as community facilities, rather than just seeing them as a source of nuisance, this should be reflected in the planning system. It wouldn’t in practice save many pubs, but at least it would ensure everything was above board.
Including use class A3 “Restaurants” would be largely pointless, as there’s nothing to stop someone running what is in effect a restaurant while still nominally operating a bar. But there would need to be a time limit, of at least ten years, and preferably twenty, otherwise it would deter people from opening up new bars and micropubs in former shop units.
We’ve recently had a local example of this with the High Grove in Gatley, an estate pub owned by Hydes Brewery. Despite considerable investment, trade had been steadily declining for years, and last autumn it was reported that Hydes were planning to sell it for alternative use. Locals persuaded the council to grant it ACV status, which gave it a six months’ stay of execution, and started a project to raise the £500,000 asking price. Recently, the six months having expired, Hydes announced they had closed the pub and sold it to a third party. It is now going to be demolished and the site redeveloped for housing, which of course does require planning permission.
This underlines the point that an ACV does not impose any requirement on business owners to even consider any community bids, and frankly I doubt whether locals had got anywhere near £500,000, given that it’s basically just a struggling and fairly typical estate pub. I’m sure that the smoking ban won’t have helped the High Grove, and its potential must have been severely damaged by the installation of a particularly vicious traffic calming scheme on both approach roads about fifteen years ago, which would have been a major deterrent to developing any destination food trade.