CAMRA has called on the government to close loopholes in the planning laws that allow the likes of Tesco to convert pubs into supermarkets without undergoing the usual local scrutiny. Research by CAMRA members has shown that, since 2010, over 200 pubs have undergone conversion; the majority (130) by Tesco: well, every little helps.
The appeal of pub-to-supermarket conversions is simple. A public house is, for planning purposes, already considered a retail unit. So if Tesco, Sainsbury’s etc want to open on the site, they can do so without undergoing the usual change of use process. This of course sidesteps the local authority and has the added bonus, if the premises are less than 280 sq metres, of bypassing the Sunday Trading Act.
This circumventing of local consultation has been highlighted before, but CAMRA believe it’s more imperative than ever that this anomaly is corrected. And they’re not alone. Greg Mulholland MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Save The Pub Group, has written to all the major supermarkets asking that they cease to target pubs.
No one can pretend that this measure is some sort of panacea for the pub trade’s ills, but it seems only fair to correct legislation that makes it easier to convert a pub into a supermarket than a restaurant into a pub.
However, I fear that the appeal will fall on deaf ears. We have a prohibitionist government who are intent on less planning regulation, not more, and who are lukewarm towards pubs at best. So I won’t hold my breath.