Change of use of drinking establishments

Part of Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 3:00 pm, 28th March 2017

This is a topic very close to my heart, as it evidently is for Members from both sides of the Chamber. We know how important pubs are to the fabric of our communities. They are more than just a place that sells alcohol; they are a meeting place and a community heart. In many areas, they are the one bit of heritage of historical value in the local area in terms of architecture. In my own town, Oldham, where terraced streets were thrown up to house the millworkers, very little attention was paid to the architectural quality of the buildings. The architectural quality generally stands out in the local church and the local pub.

I sometimes drive round my town with a very heavy heart as I see some really inappropriate conversions, not only in terms of use but because the fact that they do not require planning permission often means that the important conversation about retaining heritage value in a building just has not taken place. Quite often, beautiful stained glass windows will be completely ripped out in favour of cheap, white, UPVC plastic windows. That might seem like a minor issue, but if that is the focal point of a community and it has had its heart ripped out, it affects how people feel about the place where they live.

I am pleased that the Government are acknowledging the role that pubs play in the local community, not only in the way I just described but through their economic value. Pubs are worth £22 billion a year to the economy, and £13 billion is raised from them in taxes and duties which, of course, funds our vital public services. They support nearly 1 million jobs. Just in the time I have been on this planet, since 1980, 21,000 pubs have closed, and 21 pubs close every week. It is urgent that we get the changes we are discussing, and quickly, because we do not want developers to try to move fast and aggressively in the knowledge that change is coming, looking to demolish or change use in the meantime. While are having this debate, three pubs will close—every day, three pubs close in this country—so there is a sense of urgency about ensuring that community rights are protected.

I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend Toby Perkins. I give him credit for the work he has done on the all-party parliamentary pub group to expose the importance of local pubs in giving a community a voice. I must admit that I had a smile on my face listening to his romantic description of that first experience of walking through a pub door. Depending on the pub’s proprietor, we do not always get a welcome—sometimes we feel as though we have walked into somebody’s living room—but at their best pubs are open and welcoming and they make us feel like part of the family, even if we are perfect strangers. That is why it is so important that they are maintained. We live in a time when people are becoming more socially disconnected and when families spend very little time together, so places where people come together are important.

This Friday and Saturday, I am sure Members will have the time on their hands to come up to Oldham, where we will be celebrating the Oldham beer festival, at which more than 60 real ales and ciders, many from the north-west, will be on display for people to test. There will be a fantastic example of local British produce. That is one way the community comes together.

The debate has been very positive, but if I may be slightly critical—though this probably goes beyond the current Government—we have not seen a compelling vision of what the British pub will be for this country and how the Government will offer support to the pub industry across different policy areas.