2014 local election candidates on pub closures

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Gareth Epps contacted candidates for May 2014 local council elections regarding their positions on pub closures in the Reading and Mid-Berkshire CAMRA region:

Q. In overall terms, what sort of protection should the council's planning policies give to pubs under threat of permanent closure?

  • James Moore, Lib Dem (Abbey ward): They should recognise their unique ability to act as a community hub and to hold events such as live music, rather than treating them solely as a drinking establishment.
  • John Dearing, UKIP (Katesgrove ward): Maximum possible under existing legislation.
  • Rob White, Green (Park ward): I think the Council's planning policies should give pubs a high level of protection against permanent closure.
  • Margaret McNeill, Lib Dem (Church ward): I am in favour of Local Councils using their powers to prevent pubs being demolished or converted to other uses if it is clear that local people are prepared to support a bid for Assets of Community Value.
  • Chris Burden, Lib Dem (Caversham ward): A pub should be recognised, in principle, as likely to have a desirable place in the community. There should be a presumption, in the planning rules, in favour of the continued existence of a public house in some form at that location. It should be up to bona fide members of the local community and competent experts, to make the case that the continued presence of a pub, as such, in that location is either undesirable and unwelcome, and makes no worthwhile contribution to the wider community, or would simply be an unviable business proposition.

Q. Are you familiar with the new ability to designate Assets of Community Value?

  • JM: Yes.
  • JD: Yes.
  • RW: Yes.
  • MM: Yes.
  • CB: Yes.

Q. Will you support communities wanting to nominate community pubs as Assets of Community Value?

  • JM: Absolutely.
  • JD: Yes.
  • RW: Yes.
  • MM: Yes, I would generally support nominations, but I would consider each application on its own merits.
  • CB: Yes.

Q. Currently most pubs can be demolished or converted into supermarkets or convenience stores without the need for planning permission. Government advice is that an Article 4 Direction can be applied to require permission. Please indicate your view on this.

  • JM: I strongly support this and would take a lead in making such efforts.
  • JD: I strongly support this and would take a lead in making such efforts.
  • RW: I support such a move being made.
  • MM: I would support requiring Article 4 Direction being applied to require permission.
  • CB: I support such a move being made. An Article 4 Direction, requiring a developer to obtain planning permission before redeveloping a pub, seems entirely reasonable. Obviously, certain, normal tests of desirability and viability of the pub would have to be met but, in the end, a developer couldn't just send in the bulldozers.

Q. The issue above is one example of national planning loopholes that are leaving pubs vulnerable. Would you be prepared to put forward a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act to the Government as councils are entitled to do, urging them to close these loopholes?

  • JM: Yes.
  • JD: Yes, pubs should be a separate category within the planning laws rather than treated as retail units.
  • RW: Yes.
  • MM: Yes.
  • CB: Yes.

Q. CAMRA believes there is a role for well-run community pubs in promoting responsible drinking, and that this should be recognised through local licensing policies. At the same time, councils should avoid placing undue strains or administrative burdens on well-run community pubs: for example, in town centres the introduction of late night levies or Early Morning Restriction Orders. Do you agree?

  • JM: Yes.
  • JD: Broadly speaking, yes. There is insufficient understanding in the public sphere that most problems are caused by the excessive availability of alcoholic beverages in the off-trade (esp supermarkets and some corner stores) whereas drinking in pubs is usually well-controlled. Within their limitations pubs are also valuable as meeting places, vehicles for charitable activities and live entertainment venues. The old saying "See you in church" (meaning the pub) has a new resonance in a largely secular society (although I speak as a church-goer myself!)
  • RW: Yes.
  • MM: I would need to know more about this issue.
  • CB: Councils should clearly avoid putting undue administrative demands on what are, after all, small local businesses and employers. It would be nice to believe that any such measures would be implemented only after proper advice from such as the police and local residents, but I have personally witnessed measures aimed at rowdy 'town centre' establishments imposed, in an unnecessary, blanket way, on all pubs in a wide area, out of 'fairness'. (Community) pubs which can demonstrate that their door policy, style of operation, and record (and lack thereof) of incidents, should be able to easily have their licence conditions moderated.

Q. Any further comments, or (confidentially if necessary) issues you would like advice or support from CAMRA locally?

  • JM: None.
  • JD: As a life-member of CAMRA I strongly support the targets listed below.
  • RW: Please consider this a Reading and Wokingham Green Party response rather than expecting one per candidate.
  • MM: None.
  • CB: None.