"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place."
These were the words of licensee Andy Longman last week, after he was refused planning permission to build an outdoor smoking area at his premises in Horsforth, Leeds.
He is certainly not alone, and with the smoke ban looming, publicans across England face the dual conundrum of adhering to new regulations while sticking within the parameters of planning guidelines.
Tim Willis, licensee at the White Horse Inn, Washford, West Somerset, came unstuck after building a portable shelter in the beer garden opposite his pub using metal skids usually used to contain horses.
He says he was told beforehand that he wouldn't need planning permission because the shelter was portable. But after erecting it West Somerset Council told him it contravened planning regulations on environmental and economic grounds. He is now appealing against the decision.
Race against time Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame, admits that many licensees are now in a race against time to obtain planning permission.
"There's no doubt it is difficult," he says. "An awful lot of planning applications weren't made because people were waiting for the regulations before they applied.
"Very few pubs have the perfect slot to build on, and most will require planning. You have an added complication with listed buildings as well."
The financial cost of expanding is another stumbling block for licensees, and Neame admits that people face a difficult decision over whether to extend their premises.
"Lessees or freeholders will find it jolly difficult to get anything done because it's so expensive," he says. "The temptation is to go for a quick fix, but I'd encourage them to look at the long-term solution."
The Scottish experience
In Scotland a number of pubs were hit with similar problems prior to the ban, introduced last March.
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), explains: "There were backlogs with planning. The regulations didn't come out until a couple of months before the Act. We couldn't really apply it and the authorities didn't give us time.
"We advised people to pre-empt the regulations and put their applications in, but there was a lot of scaremongering. It got very technical and muddied, and there was great inconsistency in what people could and couldn't do depending on the area.
"The only advice I can give is to telephone your local planning authority and ask them to clarify the rules."
But how can licensees improve their chances of being successful in their planning bids?
Stephen Curran, managing director of consultants Mercury, which carried out a number of expansions in the run-up to the ban in Scotland, has a few tips.
He recommends getting in early to ask your local planning authority for guidance. Licensees should make it easy for the local authority, providing a visual representation of the proposed work, he says. They should "demonstrate evidence of their proposed policing policy".
He warns against sticking out like a sore thumb. "All environments will require a solution that either improves the area or at least is in keeping with the aesthetics of your neighbourhood," he says.
Curran advises not to cover every outside area and to consider the 50 per cent rule. He says: "Don't try to be cute about sneaking in extra wall space or imagining that your retractable roof won't count because it almost certainly will."
Although these tips won't guarantee success, at least they offer sensible guidance in an area that will dominate the agenda over the next few months.
With July 1 on the horizon, if you haven't already done so, now is the time to submit your planning application.