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CAMRA urges planning law changes to stop pub supermarket conversions

By Adam Pescod , 19-Nov-2012
Last updated on 19-Nov-2012 at 17:01 GMT

Related topics: General News

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has urged the Government to change planning laws after it published new research showing that over 200 pubs across Britain have been converted into supermarket convenience stores since January 2010.

CAMRA urges planning law changes to stop pub supermarket conversions

Based on a national survey carried out by its members, CAMRA found that since the beginning of 2010, 130 pubs have been converted into convenience stores by Tesco, and 22 by Sainsbury’s, with a further 54 by other companies including the Co-Operative, Asda and Costcutter.

CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said: “Weak and misguided planning laws and the predatory acquisition of valued pub sites by large supermarket chains, coupled with the willingness of pub owners to cash-in and sell for development, are some of the biggest threats to the future of Britain’s social fabric. For years, large supermarket chains have shown a disregard for the wellbeing of local communities, gutting much-loved former pubs in areas already bursting with supermarket stores.

“Pubs are being targeted for development by supermarket chains due to non-existent planning controls allowing supermarkets to ride roughshod over the wishes of the local community. At a time when 18 pubs are closing every week this is damaging a great British institution.

“Unless action is taken by the Government to address obvious loopholes in planning legislation, more local communities will be forced to give up their local pub without a fight, and seeing the pub signs of Red Lions and Royal Oaks being corporately graffitied over by supermarket empires will become an all too common sight.”

With a further 45 pubs currently reported to be under threat of conversion across Britain, CAMRA’s calls have been echoed by John Denham, Labour MP for Southampton Itchen, who described the situation as a “looming crisis”.

“Residents across the country are feeling powerless to intervene as local community pubs are being turned into convenience stores,” said Denham.

“The Castle, a pub in my own constituency in Southampton, is the latest in a line of pubs being sold by large pub company Enterprise Inns to the giant supermarket chain Tesco. CAMRA’s new figures show that this kind of behaviour is rife around the country as around one pub a week is converted into a convenience store.

“The Government needs to wake up to this looming crisis in the pub industry and look not only at planning laws that allow pubs to be converted so easily, but also at the cosy relationship between national retailers and large pub companies that so often leave local communities feeling left out in the cold.”

Greg Mulholland MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, has written to all the major supermarkets calling on them to stop targeting pubs.

He said: “It is a scandal that viable and wanted pubs are being converted into supermarkets  due to the weakness as a result of absurd loopholes in the planning system, which mean that pubs can be changed into shops, betting shops and pay-day loan shops or even demolished without planning permission."

Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director for the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, added: “It is always sad to see pubs close, and we all know the reasons why that is happening – today’s market has changed out of all recognition from that of 20 years ago, so have today’s drinkers and their drinking habits.

"But it is particularly galling when supermarkets take the place of pubs. The tax regime, the licensing regime and the planning regime all unfairly favour retail and off-trade development at the expense of pubs and bars.

"The real scandal is that in planning terms it is easier for a pub to turn into a supermarket than it is to turn a restaurant into a bar. We need a rethink of planning rules more generally to help the development of a modern, dynamic industry on the high street and in suburban neighbourhoods as well as in rural villages.”

A spokesperson for the British Beer & Pub Association said: “The Community Right to Bid provisions in the Localism Act, which we support, are a good basis for keeping as many pubs as possible open, but it won’t always be a viable option. This is why we need to keep campaigning on the underlying cause of the pressures, the overtaxation and overregulation of our sector.”

Community Pubs Minister Brandon Lewis insisted that the Government is fully committed to supporting community pubs, and pointed to the postponement of business rates revaluations and the Community Right to Buy scheme as evidence of this.

He said: "The new planning framework makes clear councils should plan positively for the provision of community facilities such as pubs, and along with the new Community Right to Buy communities have the power to guard against their unnecessary loss.

"The Government is also taking decisive action to support community pubs including doubling small business rate relief for two and a half years, which gives up to 100% rate relief for small firms including pubs. Postponing revaluation will also avoid local pubs facing an 11 per cent rise in their business rates bills.

"This is on top of abolishing the last Government’s cider tax, cutting red tape on live music in pubs and stopping unfair sales of alcohol below cost-price by supermarkets. We are also giving local councils new powers to introduce local business rate discounts, which could support pubs which offer community facilities."

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