Neighbourhood Planning Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 4:00 pm, 28th February 2017

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate, in which there has been a great deal of passion and much agreement. There is not anything that divides us on the basic tenet that we want to protect pubs. Where there is a difference is on the best way of doing that. There is no disagreement about the diagnosis, only about the remedy. One or two noble Lords were, perhaps, in error—or have expressed themselves ambiguously—on one point. If you are converting a pub to residential accommodation, you need planning permission; that is already the case and this would not alter that.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Tope, Lord Scriven, and Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for speaking so effectively to the amendments. I reaffirm that the Government do recognise the importance that local communities place on valued community pubs. I have experience of this because, in another life, I was co-chair of the All-Party Beer and Pub Group in the National Assembly for Wales— one of my more pleasant jobs there—and met regularly with CAMRA and the British Beer and Pub Association. I was pleased to set out in Committee the range of support that we are providing to some communities to enable them to purchase their local pubs and to enable other pubs to diversify. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that this is a package of arrangements. It is not a silver bullet; we have to look at the problem more holistically.

Our package of fiscal measures—scrapping the beer and alcohol duty escalators and freezing beer duty at Budget 2016—has supported all pubs. These measures have made a considerable difference and have been widely welcomed across the House and in communities up and down the country. Some noble Lords have made the point that some pubs are not viable and no amendment we pass will make them so. There are others which we should seek to protect. There are things we can do today, but whatever we do will ameliorate and help the situation, not solve it with a silver bullet.

As I said I would in Committee, I have continued to give consideration to the issue of pubs and assets of community value, to try to do something that will address this across a range of pressure points and issues. I have met with the Campaign for Real Ale—an excellent organisation for which I have great respect—and the British Beer and Pub Association. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that it was clear from our meeting that they are much more of the view that we should have a review than that we should press this amendment. I was intent on listening to their views to see how the current arrangements work.

I am very keen to respond to the concerns that have been raised today, and it is clear that a delicate balance needs to be struck. Indeed, the evidence put forward by the Campaign for Real Ale does not necessarily point to permitted development rights as having the most significant impact on pubs. I am keen that we should look at this issue and the evidence available to us. It is clear from these conversations that the majority of pubs that change use do so following local consideration of a planning application in relation to residential development rights—or, in this case, non-rights.

Figures provided by CAMRA estimate that 90% of pubs changing use do require planning permission. Where this is the case, for example for the change of use to residential, there are strong policy protections for pubs. Paragraph 70 of the National Planning Policy Framework requires local planning authorities to deliver the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services that the community needs, including pubs. That is why it is important for local planning authorities to have relevant, up-to-date, local policies in place to support their decision-making.

In respect of the change of use or demolition of pubs under permitted development rights, as noble Lords will know, the current arrangements already provide protections for pubs that are valued by the community. As has been indicated in this debate, permitted development rights for change of use or demolition are removed from those pubs that are listed as an asset of community value for the period of the listing. I have had a look at the process of nominating as an asset of community value. It is not complicated and there is no fee attached to it. Communities have responded positively, and more than 4,000 assets have now been listed, of which over half are pubs; a “very large number” as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said.

That is a sign of success, not failure, but I agree that we have to see how we can do better. My starting point would be to look at the impediments to other pubs being listed as assets of community value. For example, it may be that some local authorities are not looking at this in the way they should. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for coming up with some evidence, which we have certainly had a look at. That, together with other evidence I have heard, has persuaded me that we do need to consider the issue.

While we recognise the intent of the amendments, we cannot support them as such. However, that is not to say that there is no room for improvement. Clearly, there is. I believe that there is scope for improvement in the assets of community value area. I am pleased therefore to be able to offer—as an alternative to pushing this to a vote—that the Government will undertake an open and transparent review of the current arrangements in respect of assets of community value and the planning regime for pubs, including looking at permitted development rights. The review would start no later than straight after the local elections, with a clear commitment to report within six months—that is, to come back in the autumn with a view to taking action on whatever the review throws up.

We all want to protect assets of community value. The review would therefore look at the process of nominating and listing pubs as assets of community value—at how communities can better be supported to take advantage of the community right to bid and have a say in the future of their pubs, while appropriately safeguarding the rights of owners. We would invite detailed comments from communities, pub owners, local authorities and interested parties on where changes, improved guidance and other support would be helpful. This could include looking at whether there was a case for changing the planning rules—that would be part of the review.

For example, from my discussions it is clear that across the country there are inconsistencies of approach. The evidence brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, demonstrated that and, of course, there are other examples of local authorities not applying the rules in the way they should. While decisions on whether to list a pub as an asset of community value are rightly matters for individual local authorities, we can look at whether further guidance for communities and local authorities would be helpful. In one case I heard about, a local authority did not want to list a pub because it served alcohol—which seems rather to miss the point of what we are seeking to do. So I would be keen to put a spotlight on cases like that and make sure that we get some sense into the system.

Alongside this, the review would consider the impact of the removal of permitted development rights for change of use—including the impact on owners. I would also be keen to look at issues around the raising of finance, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and others have raised. It is inconsistent; some financing bodies do not regard listing as an impediment while others do. The objective is to ensure we get best practice here. The review would enable us to look at this on a fairly short timescale and on a much broader front. This is not just about planning issues; it is broader than that. It is also about the assets of community value approach, which does work extremely well in many parts of the county. In the borough of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—indeed, on his doorstep—the Ivy House, where he is, perhaps, an occasional rather than a frequent imbiber, appears to be working very successfully. So there are examples that we can use to inform this review of where the approach is working extremely successfully.

I would be content to put on the face of the Bill that we will have a statutory review within the timescale I have indicated. I do not think I can be fairer than that. This would look at things across the range and come up with evidence not just on the narrow area of planning permission but around the assets of community value scheme—which all parties have signed up to as a valuable process—to see if we can find a way forward.

I have been pleased to engage with noble Lords on these issues. We have had some good discussions and we share the aim of doing something positive. However, I believe that a review within this tight timescale would be the answer. I therefore ask the noble Lord and other noble Lords not to press their amendments.