Pub property: Outdoor pursuits

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Investing in outdoor equipment is a great idea, but make sure you do your homework first
Investing in outdoor equipment is a great idea, but make sure you do your homework first
Investing in your pub’s outdoor infrastructure in time to cash in on summer footfall can provide a huge boost for business. Here are the boxes that need ticking before breaking ground on a new outdoor project

Savills director in residential research and consultancy Jim Ward says that licensees looking to extend their site or add any outdoor structures should follow a two-step approach to the planning application.

The first stage, according to Ward, is determining whether improvement constitutes operational development – defined in the 1990 Town & Country Planning Act as “the carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations, in, on, over or under land” – which,  therefore, requires planning permission.

If it does, operators then need to establish whether this will be achieved by traditional planning application routes.

Ward highlights that one of the most effective means of planning and building outdoor space is to engage with local planners and an architect as soon as possible to determine whether planning consent is required.

He flags up that an effective means of doing this is by getting a certificate of lawful development – an effective “halfway house”.

“What a certificate will do is confirm at that time whether a proposed development would be lawful or not – they’re quite useful with regards to outdoor structures where there’s quite a bit of ambiguity as to whether or not it will comprise lawful development.

“It’s an eight-week process, it’s half the price of a planning application and it will provide a certificate to an operator that, if they were to pursue planning application, it would be lawful. 

“They’re quite useful in providing assurances, but they do elongate the process and they’re only a halfway house towards planning permission.”

Ward adds: “What a lot of applicants fall down on is not providing a valid application. 

“Yet, for every council across the country there is a set validation checklist. It will be important in advance of an application to check validation checklists because without the items on that list they won’t register an application – that will just serve to elongate the process and add additional costs that you haven’t calculated for.

“Checklists should be available on the planning homepage of each local authority’s website.”

Retrospective applications

Ward outlines that pub building work is subjected to the Skerritt Tests by inspectors in order to determine whether or not permission is required. 

The three tests – born out of a case between Skerritts of Nottingham and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport & Regions, in which the court was asked whether the erection of a marquee in the grounds of an hotel amounted to a development requiring planning permission – gauge the size, permanence and physical attachment of a structure.

Ward cites a pub in Liverpool as one that fell foul of the Skerritt tests having already built a children’s play frame in its garden, as an example.

The operator had already proceeded without planning consent, however, due to the frame’s size, permanence and attachment to the ground via concrete pads, it was determined that the structure represented a building that needed planning permission. 

“What normally happens is if you’re found to have an unlawful building within the grounds of a pub, the council will serve an enforcement notice,” says Ward. 

“The enforcement notice will give a set period of time during which you have to regularise the planning. 

“That can either comprise taking down the structure or seeking to retrospectively get planning consent – exactly the same process as an application before building. 

“While retrospective planning permission should be just as objective, you often find that there’s a little bit more resistance given that you’ve tried to circumvent the system to some degree. There’s no difference in terms of penalty costs or time-frames, it’s very much the same as a normal planning application.”

Ward says that, while he’s often asked what measures are in place to deter publicans from breaking ground on a project without consent and then seeking permission retrospectively, ploughing ahead with work without consent can risk financial setbacks. 

“The risk is for something like an extension, or something more costly, that isn’t guaranteed to get planning consent. If it’s subsequently found to be in breach of planning then you’re some way down the line having spent a huge amount of money and you have to then retro-fit it or take it down.”

Mind your surroundings

Sidney Phillips managing director Robin Mence explains: “Planning is part of the British legislative process. The constitution is based on case law – ergo, if you’re going to be submitting a planning application for a garden that’s very similar to nearby pubs, or neighbouring pubs, comparable evidence is very important.

“It’s difficult for a local authority to show opposition to your application if they’ve already granted consent to three very similar ones.” Ward adds: “One pitfall I’ve come across is by virtue of their age and location in town or city centres, you often find pubs are either listed or located within conservation areas.” 

“This will increase the scrutiny with which the council determines the application. In regards to a pub in a conservation area, the developer, whether it be some garden structures, an extension, play frame, will have to be very careful that they don’t negatively impact the significance and beauty of the conservation area – improvements have to be in character. 

“That’s not a death knell for development, it just means in designing and ‘speccing’ up the structure you’ll just have to be a little bit more sensitive to the environment.”

Keep community on-side

Mence finds that operators can rally their local communities to get behind building work, stating that “any planning process is political” and that it’s vital to keep local residents on-side and in the loop.

Mence says: “Pubs are a local amenity and the investment you’re going to do and the investment you’re seeking will help secure that amenity for the community in the future. It’s an emotive argument to put forward.

“My experience is people like to be consulted. If you just drive on your process without them, they’re maybe going to be small-minded about it – or less likely to be receptive.

“If they have concerns, it’s best that you discuss those and hopefully allay them rather than them address it via a letter of objection to a planning application or a licensing application you’re putting in.”

Mence adds it’s essential locals are consulted, especially about outdoor building work, due to the likely increase in “rowdy revellers” using outdoor spaces late into the evening. 

Mence adds: “The most normal problem would be noise pollution. Even country pubs in the middle of nowhere tend to be at the centre of villages, so you’ve got neighbours. If you’re using an area to that hitherto hasn’t been utilised, noise pollution is going to be an issue.”     

To find out more about pubs for sale, lease and tenancy visit our property site​.

Related topics: Property law

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