Sunday, 23 March 2014

Planning to fail

I’ve often made the point on here that no amount of planning restrictions will save a single pub if the underlying demand isn’t there. This view is supported by Martyn Cornell in this provocative blogpost: How much is a pub worth? The Lib Dems don’t know:

Pubs don’t need their existence protecting by legislation because, as has been demonstrated hundreds of times over the past couple of decades alone, if the demand is there a pub will arise, and if the demand isn’t there, a pub will close. People get emotional when they read headlines that say “Village loses its last pub”, but almost every time the pub is closing because villagers aren’t using it in sufficient numbers – and if there really is genuine demand, there is little or nothing to stop a village entrepreneur opening a new pub, micro or otherwise, to replace the one that is closing.
He makes the important point that, if you force pub owners to sell pubs to sitting tenants at their market value as a pub, as the Lib Dems propose, then either the risk of running a failing pub is transferred to the tenant or, if redevelopment is ultimately allowed, then the tenant rather than the pubco ends up with all the benefit. And the local community still has no pub.

He also points out that it has never been easier to open new premises with full on-licences:

The debate about “protecting” pubs from closure is conducted as if there were only a finite number of sites capable of ever being pubs, and every pub that becomes a supermarket, or a private home, or even a coffee bar means a permanent reduction in the number of pubs there could ever be. But this is total nonsense, of course: even in the days when it was much harder to open a new pub than it is now, Tim Martin, to name just one entrepreneur, was putting up his signboards on premises that had all sorts of previous uses: banks, cinemas, shops, post offices, and the rest. The same process is still going on, all around the country: the micropub movement, for example, has seen pubs open in premises that were formerly, to pick just a few examples at random, a butcher’s shop, an antiques shop, a taxi firm’s offices, a hairdresser’s, a dry cleaner’s, a pharmacy, a tattoo parlour, a kitchen showroom, a bookshop, a launderette, a bakery, a health food shop … you are, I’m sure, getting the picture. There are even a couple of micropubs opened up in premises that had been pubs originally, but which had closed 80 or 100 years ago. If the will, and the demand, is there, pubs can spring into being almost as easily as nail bars and tattoo parlours, kebab outlets and coffee shops.
And he exposes the argument that pub closures may denude areas with high property values of any licensed premises as absurd. Even where rents are sky-high, there are still bars, and various other kinds of small retail outlets, but they may simply occupy the ground floors of larger blocks rather than being substantial free-standing buildings. It may happen in inner London, but I can’t think of a single pub around here that could have been regarded as thriving, but ended up being sold off for redevelopment or conversion to alternative use.

The widespread claim that lax planning controls are leading to the closure of large numbers of perfectly viable pubs has only a tenuous grounding in reality, and this particular narrative actually hinders the efforts of those who genuinely believe in pubs and wish to improve their prospects by challenging the social and legislative constraints under which they operate.


  1. Lets cut the waffle and chatter
    on the demise of the local pub and social club. With the closure
    of 20,000+ licensed venues in recent years there are few observers and so called experts prepared to be honest and discuss the obvious reasons.Powerfull commercial lobbies in the Westminster Bubble along with pre loaded media bias have silenced an open democratic debate on the unprecedented demise of the local pub.There are some who say certain "laws" can NEVER. (never)be amended.Do these chattering classes maintain that Parliament has Divine Authority. Are MPs Gods who have put themselves out of reach of those that gave them thei seat.


  2. The unintended consequence of these legal ways of transferring ownership rights from owner to "community" is that they make many pubs look like poor investments you wouldn't touch with a bargepole.

    Take on an old building and run it as a pub? God no, the local beards will have an ACV on in it no time, better let it rot and buy the old shoe shop. Run a pub in that, if it fails I can at least have the choice what to do with the gaff. Better off selling craft keg, so the beards don't take an interest.

    Though I look forward to all the legal cases that will result from companies that own assets they are unable to convert for alternate use and sell them below value. When the community buys it on the cheap, fails to run a pub, eventually makes a profit by flogging it for flats, we will see the earlier owner file a suit against the council.

  3. If the government thinks that pubs provide services to the wider community above and beyond the money they take in income, then they should put their money where their mouth is and provide significant enough fiscal incentives for the owners of the assets to wish to keep the pub open as a going concern.

  4. Professor Pie-Tin25 March 2014 at 13:34

    " Better off selling craft keg, so the beards don't take an interest."

    Funnily enough this is what one enterprising company 'oop North plans to do.

  5. Yeh, I read that with interest, Pie Tin. Pound shops are all the rage. The thing about pubs, though, is that there are more legal restrictions on the measures draught grog is sold in. Whilst poundworld (Mudgies favourite shop) can reduce the pack sizes to keep it at a quid, what is a pub gonna do? have house beers it can reduce the strength of? Dunno, I guess we'll see. Be interesting if they roll more of them out. It might give me somewhere other than spoons or smiths for cheap pint.


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