Introduction to October/November 2023 issue

I’m sure that most readers are aware of the grim story of the Crooked House in Himley, so I won’t repeat the details here, especially as criminal charges may be pending, but it has, at least, given pubs a temporary prominence in the national press. This made me think about the public’s attitude to pubs in general and what sort of regard they are held in. Statista, the global data and business intelligence platform, conducted a survey between April 2017 and March 2018 which showed that only 53% of adults visit pubs and bars in their leisure time. There are, of course, many people who, for ethical reasons, do not consume alcohol and choose not to be in the company of those who do so. Fair enough. There are also, from my reading of comments on planning applications over the years, many who have a very strong ‘nimby’ attitude and who do not want pubs near where they live. Many people sadly fail to appreciate or simply ignore the benefits of the pub to their communities, such as the consumption of alcohol in a controlled environment and helping to ease loneliness. CAMRA’s work as an ambassador for pubs continues to be vital.

There is also an issue as to the attitude that some planning authorities take to pubs. In 2017, permitted development rights were removed from pubs and they became a sui generis planning class. This means that demolition, redevelopment or change of use requires planning permission. However, research by CAMRA has revealed that, in the last six months alone, 31 out of 95 pubs which have been demolished or converted to another use did not have the required planning permission. There is also concern over a lack of positive action being taken in some cases, despite the planning authority having the necessary powers to act.

London should be in a better position that most areas because of the implementation of Policy HC7 of the London Plan. There are still some sad stories however. The Jester in Cockfosters closed in 2013 and suffered a fire in 2018. The severely damaged building has been left to rot while planning applications have been refused and, when an order was made requiring its rebuilding, the owner simply sold it on. In my own borough, Merton, the Grade II-listed Burn Bullock also closed in 2013. Some sporadic short term enforcement action has been taken over the years but no progress has been made towards securing a long term future, as a pub or otherwise. On 31 August, two pubs in Croydon, the Drum & Monkey and the Windmill, which had closed in 2016 and 2022 respectively, both suffered serious fires at more or less the same time. There is, incidentally, no known connection between the pubs, except for their location. Further afield, in Gravesend, a former CAMRA national pub of the year, the Crown & Thistle closed in 2015 and, while the local council have refused the owner’s plans for redevelopment, they have also refused to renew its Asset of Community Value listing because they believe that it will not reopen as a pub. Stalemate, it seems. See also the report on the Picture Palace in Ponders End in the Pub News column. The Government’s plans for High Street Rental Auctions present another threat.

I’ll leave the last word to CAMRA’s pub and club campaigns director, Gary Timmins, “The pub trade is resilient but it’s simply unacceptable that developers are able to flout planning regulations in this manner. CAMRA has been calling for more consistent enforcement of planning requirements by councils for some time. We believe that if local planning authorities are not able to apply pub protections as set out in legislation, then government in Westminster must step in to provide clearer guidance. These are national policies in England and yet the variation that our campaigners see between councils with the strongest pub protection policies and those that view pubs as an inconvenience, is shocking.”
Tony Hedger