I am sure that it is merely coincidence, but since the Morning Advertiser published that excellent article by Lionel Fynn last month on the differences between planning and licensing, there have been at least two examples of successful pub planning appeals.
It is painfully true that most licensees are not up to speed on planning regulations and their effect on the premises. They come into the trade with some knowledge of the licensing laws and a smattering of accountancy (possibly) but they do not get any induction into the pitfalls of local authority controls over the premises themselves. Most of them, however, pick it up as they go along, sometimes because they have come face to face with what seems to be an insurmountable problem.
In their eagerness to improve the premises and provide better facilities for customers, newcomers do not study the planning constraints. They often express surprise to me that their massive new conservatory or their new double glazing on what turns out to be a listed building is objected to by council officials. The word "busybodies" crops up a lot, as if no-one has the right to interfere in any way with what they are doing with the premises.
In fact, everyone is affected by planning regulations, be they businesses or householders. If you happen to be in a green belt or a conservation area, you will know only too well the limits of your development ideas. But many entrants to the pub trade think they have a free hand, which is simply not true.
If there really is an issue between yourself and the council planning department on something you think is unfair, it is not the magistrates you turn to, but the planning inspectorate. This is a separate body, organised on a regional basis under the auspices of the Department of Communities & Local Government. Making an appeal is free, but it should really only be used as a last resort and certainly only if you have a genuine and arguable case for a decision to be overturned.
It is no good appealing simply because you do not like being knocked back. For example, if you have broken planning regulations that you should have followed, or have been clearly told that your application is outside the permitted limits, appealing will do you no good at all, and you could end up being told to pay costs, if the inspector thinks you have acted unreasonably.
But where you think the authority has overstepped the mark, or not taken certain aspects into account (such as benefit to the community, or the impact on your business) then the inspector may well be a good recourse for you.
The majority of appeals are dealt with on a written basis, usually with a site visit so that the inspector can see for himself. He will have detailed planning knowledge, but he will look at all factors, not just direct planning ones. This can sometimes work in your favour, although it also means that he will find out if you have been economical with the truth as well!
The appeals system is no substitute for complying with planning regulations, however. For example, where you build something without the necessary consent, there is as much chance of you having to take it down or restore the premises to their previous condition as gaining "retrospective consent" after the event. This has happened with a number of pubs in recent years. The recession will not in itself relax the rules at all, although inspectors will sometimes take into account commercial considerations, as they did in the case of the Brighton patio heaters. So there is some hope in the system.