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Blanket planning policy to protect pubs is threat to market forces

By Tom Nichols , 11-Feb-2013

Nichols:

Nichols: "There has to be an ebb and flow to allow natural market forces to function"

The British Beer & Pub Association’s move to take to judicial review Cambridge City Council’s planning policy to protect pubs may not be as outlandish as first seems.

Let me be clear, it is vital to protect the role that pubs provide as they are essential to the fabric of communities. There should be adequate safeguards and policies to protect pubs.

However, a blanket approach is far too prohibitive. There has to be an ebb and flow to allow natural market forces to function. Is it the role of local authorities to artificially ‘prop-up’ unviable businesses?

In Cambridge we have been involved in several pub disposals over recent years and the vast majority had struggled for many years. Yes, businesses free from any purchasing or brewery tie can be profitable at lower levels, but is it legitimate to dictate to this degree?

My fear is that other local authorities will look at this policy and try to adopt it, not taking account of the specific characteristics of Cambridge where there are a high number of college bars, sports and social clubs, restaurants and other licensed outlets.

Consumer trends are changing and there needs to be some thinning out of pubs nationally to reflect this, but there is a danger of looking at the loss of pubs in isolation.

While it has the potential to restrict values for freeholders and operators, it also constrains market forces, which could stifle the evolution of towns and cities.

  • Tom Nichols is managing director of Everard Cole