Let market forces dictate pub closures

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With the housing market now showing signs of a slowdown will we see an end to our pubs being bulldozed by property developers?Pub conservationists...

With the housing market now showing signs of a slowdown will we see an end to our pubs being bulldozed by property developers?

Pub conservationists are bound to see any slowdown in the property market as positive, as are those who attempt to oppose the loss of their local pub when under threat - even if they can't actually claim to be a regular customer.

It's only right that we protect our most treasured pubs, but we overlook the fact the best examples are very rarely under threat.

Most pubs which are of any historical interest or architectural merit are already listed by English Heritage and those which aren't can be protected by a local listing or tend to be situated in conservation areas where demolition will be resisted.

The fact the government is trying to make developers incorporate less profitable social housing into even the smallest of new residential schemes means pubs are no longer such lucrative redevelopment opportunities for private house builders.

Blanket policies

Certain local authorities have deemed it necessary to introduce blanket policies which actually resist the loss of pubs.

These policies are, when implemented sensibly, a positive addition to planning policy, but in certain areas where there are simply too many pubs for them all to survive or where social and economic conditions may have changed they could become a hindrance.

Those pubs which are forced to close would often be better off developed for an alternative use straight away than left vacant for years while a lengthy, and often expensive, planning battle rumbles on.

I have already seen planning officers use these policies to attempt to reject applications where the developer intends to replace a bottom-end pub with housing, which will be provided purely for social or key worker occupation.

Surely the need for this type of housing outweighs the cost of losing a pub which is long past its sell-by-date?

When planning policies aren't there to protect, market forces are also working against developers.

Although residential land values have risen sharply in recent years, freehold pubs have done their best to keep pace with prices often reflecting underlying property value as much as they do multiples on profit.

15 times earnings Prices for freehold portfolios whether managed or tenanted have increased dramatically in recent years usually comfortably exceeding 10 times earnings. A pub company looking to sell an individual asset is often seeking prices which are in excess of 15 times earnings, meaning that pubs are now often worth far more for their existing use.

Whatever the property market does in the short term, demand for new housing shows no sign of waning even though a price correction does look on the cards.

The land has to come from somewhere and who wants to see more of our countryside replaced with large housing developments? Brownfield development seems the logical way forward which means that under performing pubs will, like all other types of property, come under the radar of developers.

It is inevitable that further pubs will be lost, although I suspect a combination of planning policy and strong existing use values will mean our favourite locals will now be slipping down the property developer's hit list of potential targets.

Paul Breen is director of licensed and leisure property at agents Colliers CRE

Related topics Property law

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