I have made the point before that it’s possible to come up with a plausible narrative for how many supposedly “failed” pubs could have been brought back to life, but it’s much harder to come up with a similar narrative for the pub market as a whole, given all the pressures that have affected it. An appealing offer in one particular pub will make little difference to overall demand, and often it’s a case of one pub succeeding at the expense of another. I know of one large village in Cheshire than in recent years has lost two of its four pubs – and the two that have closed are those that in the past I would have identified as the more attractive and viable. But, if they hadn’t closed, the odds are that the other two would have.
It’s tempting to propose that the conversion of pubs to retail use should be subject to planning consent but, in reality, isn’t that just likely to postpone the evil day and lead to greater cost and bureaucracy? The current planning system, while it requires consent for the conversion of commercial premises to residential use, broadly permits “downgrading” to use classes that are likely to create less impact on the local community. Thus, no planning consent is required for conversion of pubs to retail or office use, but it is needed in the opposite direction. Would it really serve the public good for planning permission to be required for every conversion of a box bar into a wool shop? At the end of the day, the decline of the pub trade is essentially due to a fall-off in demand, not to a failure of the planning system to protect pubs.