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The 2011 Localism Act allowed local authorities to designate non-residential buildings as “assets of community value”:
Nominations for community assets can be made by parish councils or by groups with a connection with the community. Individuals cannot nominate community assets. If the nomination is accepted, the group will be given time to come up with a bid for the asset when it is sold.
The right to bid only applies when an asset’s owner decides to dispose of it. There is no compulsion on the owner of that asset to sell it. The scheme does not give first refusal to the community group, unlike the equivalent scheme in Scotland; and it is not a community right to buy the asset, just to bid. This means that the local community bid may not be the successful one.
So far, over 170 pubs across the country have been granted this status. However, it’s important to note that it is no more than a means of buying time for threatened pubs. And, while it may work in well-off villages in National Parks, it’s unlikely to be of much value to urban pubs in transient communities with other nearby alternatives. The most likely result is pubs remaining closed and blighted for months with no realistic prospect of ever coming back to life. It stems from a misty-eyed view of “community pubs” when, in reality, most local residents will never go in their nearest pub from one year to the next and many will see a pub not as a cherished local hub but as a source of nuisance and late-night noise.
There’s a classic example of this in the campaign to save the Chesham Arms (pictured) in Hackney in East London, where the owner has failed in an attempt to have its status as an ACV rescinded. It’s a nice-looking building, but it is right in the middle of a residential area, and the name of the owner perhaps gives an indication as to why its prospects are uncertain. All this is likely to do is to delay its conversion to flats. Incredibly, the campaigners even want the council to compulsorily purchase it to maintain its status as a pub, which surely is taking socialism a bit too far.
This whole approach exemplifies the misguided view that I referred to here that the recent decline of pubs is mainly due to a combination of pubs being poorly run, and being sold off by greedy pub companies acting in association with rapacious supermarkets and property developers. I do not for a minute seek to defend the policies of the pubcos, but they are essentially a reaction to declining demand, not a cause. The pubcos borrowed up to the hilt to bet the farm on a projected outcome that just didn’t happen, and are now counting the cost.
The fact is that there has been a long-term secular decline in the overall demand for pubs which no amount of good management and enlightened corporate governance can do much to reverse. I wrote about the reasons behind this here. The current “pub crisis” is essentially a crisis of demand, not supply. All the planning controls in the world won’t save a single pub if the underlying demand isn’t there in the first place. While it is possible to turn round a failing, badly-run pub, for the most part that will simply be at the expense of others appealing to the same population of potential customers. It does little or nothing to affect the overall size of the market.
And it really does the pub trade no favours for people to insist on peddling a narrative for their decline which at best is exaggerated and at worst utterly delusional.