We certainly will stick with holding it to account. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that, since those reassurances were given, the Co-op is going down that road without seeking planning permission, I will definitely support him in what he has said.
In Chesterfield, we organised a huge public campaign which, although it does not relate specifically to the Co-op, is relevant to the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We campaigned to save the Crispin Inn in Ashgate Road when EI Group, previously known as Enterprise Inns, wanted to sell it to Tesco. The campaign was won and Tesco pulled out, only for a new developer to come along and demolish the pub, and then start consulting on what should happen on the land where it had stood. Eventually, housing was built there.
In my previous role as shadow pubs Minister, I met so many groups all over the country who were fighting so hard to save the pubs that they loved and on which communities depended. It was wrong that a developer could turn a pub into a supermarket without planning permission, but could not do it the other way round. It was wrong that a building that was potentially a precious community asset could be knocked down before the community was even able to have a say. The coalition Government did take steps to reinforce the right of communities to have a say, but, although well intentioned, their efforts were a bit like trying to catch a flood in a cup.
The great attribute of the amendment proposed by Lord Kennedy and subsequently adopted, with further amendments, by the Government is that it gives certainty to everyone involved in the industry. We must never forget that Britain’s pubs are a business, an industry with investors who need certainty. The danger of going too far down the localism route was that when a business was considering an investment decision, it was faced with potentially dozens of different legislative approaches and hurdles across its portfolio. That approach also left councils at the mercy of aggressive legislation, and they were expected to incur the legal expense of defending the measures that they had introduced to protect their pubs.
The “asset of community value” approach has given some communities a precious opportunity to fight for the pub that they love, but it did mean that often the only way in which to save a pub was to agree to become its owner. There is some value in that sort of community activism, but it should not be necessary to be willing to buy a pub in order to have a view on it.
Last week, the APPG heard from the community team that had successfully bought the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham, having used the ACV legislation to save their pub. We also heard from Wandsworth Council, which had placed a requirement for article 4 directions on about 220 of its locals. It deserves credit for its efforts, but the danger of using article 4 directions is that the landscape is different in each local authority. That led to some publicans having to obtain planning permission just to paint or decorate their pubs, which is a positive disincentive to improving or investing in the pub estate. The approach that is being advocated today will bring the certainty and clarity that everyone connected with the industry needs, and it will not prevent the owners of buildings from adopting the needs of their buildings to maximise new opportunities.