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I’ve often made the point on here that no amount of planning restrictions will save a single pub if the underlying demand isn’t there. This view is supported by Martyn Cornell in this provocative blogpost: How much is a pub worth? The Lib Dems don’t know:
Pubs don’t need their existence protecting by legislation because, as has been demonstrated hundreds of times over the past couple of decades alone, if the demand is there a pub will arise, and if the demand isn’t there, a pub will close. People get emotional when they read headlines that say “Village loses its last pub”, but almost every time the pub is closing because villagers aren’t using it in sufficient numbers – and if there really is genuine demand, there is little or nothing to stop a village entrepreneur opening a new pub, micro or otherwise, to replace the one that is closing.
He makes the important point that, if you force pub owners to sell pubs to sitting tenants at their market value as a pub, as the Lib Dems propose, then either the risk of running a failing pub is transferred to the tenant or, if redevelopment is ultimately allowed, then the tenant rather than the pubco ends up with all the benefit. And the local community still has no pub.
He also points out that it has never been easier to open new premises with full on-licences:
The debate about “protecting” pubs from closure is conducted as if there were only a finite number of sites capable of ever being pubs, and every pub that becomes a supermarket, or a private home, or even a coffee bar means a permanent reduction in the number of pubs there could ever be. But this is total nonsense, of course: even in the days when it was much harder to open a new pub than it is now, Tim Martin, to name just one entrepreneur, was putting up his signboards on premises that had all sorts of previous uses: banks, cinemas, shops, post offices, and the rest. The same process is still going on, all around the country: the micropub movement, for example, has seen pubs open in premises that were formerly, to pick just a few examples at random, a butcher’s shop, an antiques shop, a taxi firm’s offices, a hairdresser’s, a dry cleaner’s, a pharmacy, a tattoo parlour, a kitchen showroom, a bookshop, a launderette, a bakery, a health food shop … you are, I’m sure, getting the picture. There are even a couple of micropubs opened up in premises that had been pubs originally, but which had closed 80 or 100 years ago. If the will, and the demand, is there, pubs can spring into being almost as easily as nail bars and tattoo parlours, kebab outlets and coffee shops.
And he exposes the argument that pub closures may denude areas with high property values of any licensed premises as absurd. Even where rents are sky-high, there are still bars, and various other kinds of small retail outlets, but they may simply occupy the ground floors of larger blocks rather than being substantial free-standing buildings. It may happen in inner London, but I can’t think of a single pub around here that could have been regarded as thriving, but ended up being sold off for redevelopment or conversion to alternative use.
The widespread claim that lax planning controls are leading to the closure of large numbers of perfectly viable pubs has only a tenuous grounding in reality, and this particular narrative actually hinders the efforts of those who genuinely believe in pubs and wish to improve their prospects by challenging the social and legislative constraints under which they operate.