My Lords, as this is the first time that I have spoken today, I refer noble Lords to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I declare that I am a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I should also mention that I am a member of CAMRA and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group. I am a supporter of pubs and recognise the important role that they play at the heart of local communities, be they in our cities, towns, villages or rural areas. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for signing up to my amendment today.
The amendment is simple in its effect. It seeks to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to provide further protection for our pubs. We have to take further action to protect our pubs, and by that I mean protecting thriving businesses, not businesses that have failed. There are a number of problems that need to be addressed. First, I want to pay tribute to CAMRA, which, since its formation in 1971, has stood up for the enjoyment of beer, responsible drinking, the pint, and pubs at the heart of our community. It is without doubt one of the most successful consumer campaign organisations in the UK.
Permitted development rights, as noble Lords will be aware, removed the requirement for a building owner to seek planning permission before making changes to a property. This includes change of use or even demolition. The permitted develop rights that we are talking about here allow pubs to be changed to retail or to temporary office use without the need to secure planning permission. The effect is that the people in the local community are prevented from having a say over their local pub. We should be clear: these are small businesses, not failing businesses, but decisions are taken and the community loses its pub, having no say whatever. That cannot be right.
Pubs are a much-loved part of British life. They bring people together to meet, socialise, watch football or other sports, and enjoy live music or conversation with family and friends. I recall going to the event in this House organised by the Royal Voluntary Service some years ago to speak to some of the volunteers there. They were getting people out of their homes to potter down to the local pub to meet their friends and keep up their friendships. That was an important part of keeping them involved in the local community.
Pubs are also much loved by tourists. Both my brothers and my father have been black taxi drivers in London, and they could tell you about the number of tourists who arrive in London, get in the back of a taxi and want to visit a traditional pub, as well as see some of the magnificent sights that we have here. It is not uncommon for a Prime Minister to take a head of state down to the Plough in Cadsden for a pint. But permitted development rights, as they are presently in force, are estimated to contribute to the closure of 21 pubs a week.
We, of course, have the assets of community value scheme, which was introduced by the coalition Government in the last Parliament. It has proved to be a popular initiative and it has led to the removal of the permitted development rights for listed pubs. There are, however, issues and unintended consequences associated with the ACV scheme, which I will spend a little time talking about. There is a burden of time and cost placed on local authorities, community groups and pub landlords and owners. There are also a few instances where local authorities, for whatever reason, are not keen to list pubs under this scheme. All sorts of reasons are given, including that the authority is fearful of costly appeals. There have also been problems where some landlords or owners have struggled to raise funds for works, as the listing has proved a deterrent to some lenders. These are clearly an unintended consequence, but they are a consequence nevertheless.
The amendment before us today will lead to fewer pubs needing to be registered under the scheme. It will put them on a level footing with other businesses so that a developer, looking to convert a pub for whatever reason, would have to go through the normal planning application process. It is quite possible, even likely, that the application will be approved, but my amendment gives the local community a proper say in the sort of development it wants in its area and will stop local assets being lost for ever with local people having no say. Surely that is something we should all support. I beg to move.