Following last month’s famous victory giving pub tenants the right to a Market Rent Only (MRO) deal, parliamentary pub campaigners tonight had a go at providing further protections for pubs. Currently, there is nothing to stop pubs being converted into supermarkets. No planning permission, no local consultation; the pub owner can just do a private deal with the supermarket and that’s the end of it. Greg Mulholland and other MPs tabled a motion in the Commons seeking to remove the part of the planning rules that enables this fast-track road to pub loss. DCLG, the Government department that oversees planning rules, attempted to head off a potential rebellion with a sop to waverers. What they have proposed is to remove the right to convert pubs without permission in the case of those pubs that have been designated as Assets of Community Value (ACV). This is a right given to local people to request that their local pub be offered first to the local community in the event that it comes up for sale. It’s a useful tool and Bishops Lydeard & Cothelstone Parish Council, on my suggestion, has successfully applied to register both Bishops Lydeard pubs as ACVs providing some level of protection to our village pubs. The snag with DCLG’s sop is that ACV applies only to 600 of the country’s 48,000 pubs leaving all the rest of them vulnerable to the rapacious appetites of the supermarket giants. It’s no sort of compromise at all. And who knows when they’ll get round to changing the law.
However, even those pubs designated as ACVs are not safe. I’ve recently heard of local examples where supposedly protected pubs have been subjected to ‘improvements’ where the owners take the roof off or remove a major wall for so long that there is nothing left to offer the community under the ‘right to buy’ and the only option is demolition.
It would have been the easiest thing for Parliament to do to vote through the simple change proposed today. But it failed by 245 votes to 293. It’s shameful to see all those Conservative and LibDem MPs on the Government payroll dutifully obeying their parties rather than representing the interests of their constituents. I’ll let you know how Jeremy Browne voted once I hear. For the record, he voted against when given the chance to free tenants from paying inflated rents and beer costs.
Update: the PublicWhip website confirms that Jeremy Browne MP was one of the many LibDems and Conservatives who voted against this sensible provision. 1/2/15