Residents should have say in the future of their pub says Lord Kennedy

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab)

My Lords, as this is the first time I have spoken today, I refer the Committee to my entry in the register of interests. I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and one of many vice-presidents of the Local Government Association. I should probably also mention that I am a member of CAMRA and a supporter of pubs and the important role they have at the heart of local communities, be they in cities, towns, villages or more rural areas.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley for putting their names to my amendment, which seeks to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to provide further protection for pubs. I am looking for something from the Minister in response to the amendment, and I am very hopeful. We have to take further action to protect our pubs, and there are a number of problems that have to be addressed.

I pay tribute to CAMRA which has, since its formation in 1971, stood up for the enjoyment of beer, responsible drinking, the pint, and pubs at the heart of our community. It is without doubt one of the most successful consumer organisations ever in this country.

Permitted development rights, as noble Lords will be aware, remove the requirements for a building owner to seek planning permission before making changes to a property. That includes change of use and even, in some cases, demolition. The permitted development rights we are talking about here allow pubs to be changed to retail or temporary office use without securing planning permission. The effect is that local people are prevented from having a say over the future of their local pub. We should be clear that these are small businesses, not failing businesses, but decisions are often taken elsewhere and the community loses its pub without any say whatever. That cannot be right.

Pubs are a much-loved part of British life, and if noble Lords have not worked it out already, I like pubs. They bring people together to meet, socialise, watch the football or other sports, listen to live music, enjoy a conversation with family and friends. After our council meetings in Lewisham, we often end up in the Catford Conservative Club. Actually, it is no longer a Conservative club—it went bust, was taken over by another developer and is now called the Catford Constitutional Club. It is used by many people from the town hall after council meetings, although it was not used much before.

Pubs are also much loved by tourists. Both my brothers and my father are or have been London black taxi drivers, and they can tell you of the number of tourists who, arriving in London, want to get in a black cab and visit a traditional pub, as well as seeing some of our amazing sights. It is not uncommon for a Prime Minister to take a visiting head of state to the Plough at Cadsden for a pint and indeed, after the former Prime Minister took the President of China there, the Chinese bought the pub.

Permitted development rights, as they are presently in force, are estimated to contribute to the closure of up to 21 pubs a week. Of course there is the assets of community value scheme, which was introduced by the coalition Government. It has been a success, and we are pleased about that, but although it is a popular initiative, it has led to other unintended consequences. When a pub applies to be covered by this scheme, that can be a costly and time-consuming burden on local authorities, community groups and pub landlords and owners. For whatever reason, one or two local authorities do not like pubs and will not register them as a community value. They will seek to frustrate the process, giving all sorts of reasons why they cannot do it, often citing the fear of costly appeals. That cannot be right.

There is also the problem, which, again, is definitely an unintended consequence, that when a pub is listed as an asset of community value and its landlord seeks to raise capital he will have problems because the listing will be a charge against the pub and the financiers will have a problem with it. That cannot be right and, although it is unintended, we must deal with it.

The amendment would probably lead to fewer pubs needing to be registered under this scheme. It would put them on a level footing with other businesses so that a developer looking to convert a pub, for whatever reason, would need to go through the proper planning application process. It is, of course, possible that at the end of that process they will get planning permission, but the amendment would allow communities and local people to have a proper say in what happens to their local asset before it is lost. I beg to move.

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