So what were the Committee's findings and recommendations?
Firstly, they acknowledge social factors such as changing tastes and lifestyles that mean the public appetite for pubs (or at least, for certain kinds of pub) has declined , but the group also identified four factors which are accelerating the decline, resulting in local communities being underserved:
- The land value is a key reason why pubs are being sold off or closed - for redevelopment
- Closed pubs that successful companies wish to buy and run as a pub are not marketed properly by developers so they can claim nobody wants it
- Pubcos run pubs into the ground with high prices so that the landlords give up and they can sell them off for redevelopment
In other words, in many cases, pubs aren't being given a chance to succeed. And this is the crux of the issue. There are lots of bad pubs out there - dangerous ones, miserable ones, ones that take no pride or pleasure in the range of beers they sell, ones that haven't adapted their business models or decor to account for changing tastes - pubs that still think it's OK to sell warm white wine or flat lager. These pubs deserve to fail, but only in order to be taken over by someone with more passion and ambition, rather than be turned in to flats. At the moment, aspiring landlords are being shut out of the market by property speculators.
In Brockley, The Talbot has found new life and new bars like The Gantry and The Orchard have thrived, while the Wickham Arms has been allowed to fall in to decline, with bids for the pub rejected.
The Committee recommends greater protection for pubs, to signal to owners that the Council won't just give in and allow pubs to be redeveloped. Only once the residential conversion option is withdrawn will pub-owners focus on how to create viable businesses again. The key recommendations of the Committee include:
- The Council should ensure that its economic viability test for pubs sets a new benchmark for best practice. The test should ensure that there is a high standard of evidence required to demonstrate the effective marketing of a pub before approval is given for demolition or change of use. The period of marketing to test economic viability should be increased to 36 months.
- The Council should update its register of community venues for hire to include available spaces in local pubs.
- Local residents and community groups are already entitled to put forward buildings for local listing but may not be aware that this is the case. The review should be widely publicized to make them aware of the process of applying for local listing.
- The Development Management Development Plan Document (DMDPD) should include enhanced protection for pubs through its ‘pubs policy’. Any new planning policy should assume a default protection for pubs both as a building and as a pub business with the onus on developers to prove why a particular building cannot any longer be a pub.
You can download the report here - if you like the ideas, let the Mayor know.