The London borough of Wandsworth has granted article 4 directions to prevent 120 pubs and bars in its area from being converted to alternative uses.
The move is the first by any local authority in the UK, and will require the affected premises to apply for planning permission, should anyone wish to convert them to alternative uses. The article 4 direction overrides the current situation, where under permitted development rights such buildings can be changed without referencing local planners.
According to the borough, an “alarming” number of local inns have been converted to other uses including shops, estate agencies, homes and mini-supermarkets. Moves by the major grocery retail chains into smaller, urban shops has made the problem worse, with many retailers preferring pubs as they can come with on-site parking.
The borough has approved new planning guidance, which recognises the historic, architectural and community value of pubs across the borough.
“Wandsworth’s pubs are now the best protected in the entire country and have a genuine defense against the relentless spread of mini-supermarkets and estate agents,” said deputy council leader Jonathan Cook. “We know how much our residents love their locals and in many cases they really are the epicentre of community life. I’m proud and delighted we’ve found a way to protect them.
“I very much hope that other councils will follow our lead by adopting pub-friendly planning policies and then stripping away permitted development rights from their local inns, bars and taverns. This could be a real turning point for our nation’s superb but vulnerable pub trade and Wandsworth is more than ready to share its approach with other authorities.”
Geoff Strawbridge, regional director for pub and beer campaigners CAMRA, said: “I would like to see every planning authority in the country follow Wandsworth’s exemplary initiative in protecting its pubs and bars by removing permitted development rights.”
While most of the pubs placed under the article 4 direction are currently in business, the move also covers a number of properties that have closed down. The council says it hopes the move will encourage the owners to bring them back into use.
LPA Perspective: Wandsworth’s move is a logical approach to the desire to claw back control over the loss of pubs, in situations where they have a following and are part of a local community.
There are lots of reasons why pubs close, not all associated with rapacious developers, or the fact that supermarket beer is cheaper. Some are simply poorly run businesses, some lose out as drinking habits change, and fail to adapt to a more food-oriented landscape. Others may simply have been over-rented by rapacious landlords, and could be revived on more sensible terms.
So the new powers require judicious use, and planners need to recognise that if a pub cannot work financially in a location, then an alternative may be more sensible. However, planning is about balancing a mix of uses, not simply letting those with the deepest pockets – the big supermarket chains, in this instance – wade in and force change. However, bearing in mind some key economic fundamentals, it is worrying that Wandsworth’s first list includes some properties that are already closed – insisting they remain pubs could end up blighting properties, and their surroundings.
But it’s an interesting approach, and we wait to see which other boroughs follow Wandsworth’s lead – or will they be toasting this policy alone?