Change of use of drinking establishments

Part of Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West 2:15 pm, 28th March 2017

I thank the hon. Lady for her support and echo her comments. The Minister has genuinely listened and was interested in looking for solutions when the hon. Lady and I met him on 30 January. He offered that meeting and we were delighted to have it. He actually went to the trouble of inviting me into his office last Thursday to hand me a copy of the amendment and to say exactly what the Government were going to do. That is an example of how Ministers can work with MPs from across the House to achieve things, and I warmly thank him for that.

Following my tabling of a similar amendment on 7 December, I thank Lord Kennedy of Southwark for taking up the baton excellently, ably and enthusiastically, and for showing his support by taking it through the House of Lords, which presented us with this great opportunity. I thank Protect Pubs, which is now the pre-eminent organisation campaigning for better protection for this country’s pubs. It is a member of the British Pub Confederation, which I also congratulate. I must declare an interest as I am the chair of the British Pub Confederation, and I am delighted to continue to work with all publicans and pub representative organisations within the confederation. I also thank Nigel Adams, because he introduced a private Member’s Bill with the same aim back in 2010. That is sometimes forgotten, but I told him that I would mention him and thank him in the Chamber today.

Although I tabled a similar amendment back in December, it was also tabled during the passage of the Localism Act 2011. My point then was that localism is phony if we continue to allow valued pubs to be demolished or turned into supermarkets or offices without the community having any say. That is all that we are changing today—no more, no less. We are not getting into pub protection in great detail. The amendment simply gives communities the right to have a say through a planning process, just as with anything else. It should have happened a long time ago—it is common sense—but I am delighted that it is happening now.

Echoing the comments of another pubs campaigner—Mr Bailey—I thank the brave pro-pub councils that have brought forward article 4 directions and other pub-protection policies. They have shown that they can do certain things, but we needed this change from the Government. I also thank the Otley Pub Club from my constituency. Again, I have to declare an interest in that I am the club’s honorary president. When Ministers wrongly rejected this change back in 2015 by not accepting the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol North West, the club took Ministers at their word when they said, “If you value your local pubs and if you want protection against predatory purchasing by supermarkets, list them as assets of community value,” and listed all 19 pubs in the centre of Otley to show that that was the only way communities could protect them. Communities no longer have to list all their pubs simply to remove permitted development rights. If Otley Pub Club had not had the courage to go ahead and do that, and prove that Ministers were wrong in rejecting that amendment, we may not have been here discussing this today. Asset of community value status remains important, but it no longer needs to be used in all cases for all pubs simply to end permitted development rights.

I thank the wonderful CAMRA branches and members that have engaged in the campaign over many years. It was disappointing that CAMRA headquarters did not support the amendment in December. The reasons for doing so were rather strange—perhaps there had been a particularly good Christmas party—but we are delighted that the change has finally come through after many years of campaigning. It was slightly bizarre that CAMRA was still sending messages yesterday to its members, myself included, urging us to contact our MP about a vote when there was no vote. Several MPs have said to me, “Don’t worry. We’re going to vote with you,” but I have had to tell them not to. I even had one MP say that they were going to vote against me because of the email from CAMRA, so luckily there will be no vote. However, it is rather odd that CAMRA carried on lobbying after the event. I have mentioned the Co-op issue, but CAMRA really needs to look at the failed agreement with the Co-op, which has been an appalling predatory purchaser and destroyer of pubs up and down the country. CAMRA needs to disassociate itself from the Co-op in the interests of its members and of pubs.

I must put on the record and draw attention to a significant and brave decision by the Minister. When my amendment was considered in December, a false briefing was circulated by the representatives of the large pub companies. The reason why they were lobbying so hard to stop communities having the simple right to have a say was because they wanted their large pubco members to continue to be able to sell pubs to supermarkets, who can demolish them without the community having a say. People have been losing viable pubs as a result. I raised that matter on the Floor of the House and wrote to the Minister, and that was when I realised the kind of Minister he was. Rather than the usual response from civil servants, he wrote back to me, and I want to quote from the letter because it was so nice and refreshing to have an acknowledgment from a Minister. It said:

“I recognise that in doing so I referenced briefing that was made available more generally by the British Beer and Pub Association in relation to existing permitted development rights for pubs. You are right to point out that their briefing contained inaccuracies, and therefore I am pleased to confirm for the record that it is the case that the removal of permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of pubs, as a result of the nomination or listing as an Asset of Community Value, has no effect on a pub’s ability to make internal changes.”

It was great to have that confirmation, but it is a serious matter that a clearly interested party was sending false information to hon. Members, misleading them about something that was extremely simple.

The Government have clearly decided not to accept my original amendment of 7 December, nor Lord Kennedy’s of 28 February, but I understand their reasons for doing so and have made it clear to the Minister that he has my full support for the new amendment and that I am delighted with the outcome.

Toby Perkins raised the concern that the Government decided to include the mixed use category of A3/A4 because they did not want to stop publicans serving food. In actual fact, there is no need for the category because we know that food is served in many pubs in category A4 but not in others, and sometimes that changes from week to week. There is no need for the change, but the first concern that has been raised is whether the same permitted development rights will be in place for the mixed category. The Minister has made it clear that that will be the case, which is fairly clear in the Bill.

However, I flag up the genuine and very serious concern about article 4 directions because, to use the Minister’s words, there is an unintended consequence whereby many councils have decided to introduce important and impressive article 4 directions to bring in strong protections for pubs—stronger than will be offered by the amendment, as he knows—including stopping the predatory developers that Mrs Main mentioned, but those protections apply only to A4. There is a real danger that it could create a loophole whereby unscrupulous owners or developers can seek a mixed use designation to get out of the strong pub protection that exists in some areas.

Now that is on the public record, and now it is understood in a way that perhaps it has not been by some organisations, I urge the Minister to consider introducing a statutory instrument, in addition to this amendment, to ensure that the new mixed use A4/A3 category, which is for pub restaurants that should clearly have the same protection, does not fall foul of another loophole by no longer being covered by existing pub protection policies. That should be easy to address with a statutory instrument, and then everyone will be happy with the amendment as a whole. In a sense, he has done something remarkable because, despite their opposition and misleading briefings, both the British Beer and Pub Association and one of its large pubco members, Punch Taverns, have said that they are perfectly happy with the amendment. He has done something significant but, now that it has been spotted, he needs to plug the potential loophole with a statutory instrument to ensure that it does not become a problem.

Finally, I thank the Minister and all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in this campaign over many years. I raised the issue as far back as 2008, and it was one of the key aims when we set up the all-party save the pub group. It has taken longer than expected and hoped for, but we have got there now, with the caveat of closing the loophole that has been identified.