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Pubs and Planning Legislation

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 12 February 2015

[Relevant document: Sixth Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, Community Rights, HC 262.]

I beg to move,

That this House notes New Economics Foundation research showing that local economies benefit twice as much from a pound spent in a pub rather than a supermarket; expresses concern that valued and viable pubs are being lost due to permitted development rights which allow pubs to be demolished or turned into supermarkets and other uses without planning permission, denying local people any say; notes that supermarket chains are deliberately targeting pubs and further notes CAMRA research that two pubs a week are converted into supermarkets; supports CAMRA’S Pub Matters campaign calling for an end to permitted development rights on pubs; notes that any change of use to a nightclub, laundrette or theatre requires planning permission, making it odd to refuse pubs the same status; notes plans to remove permitted development rights from pubs listed as Assets of Community Value (ACVs), and calls on the Government to announce how and when this will happen; notes, however, that pubs achieving ACV status is not as simple as Ministers have suggested, with the requirement for local communities to provide boundaries and plans and that every pub must be listed separately making it unrealistic for communities to protect all valued pubs; further notes that each ACV application costs local authorities over a thousand pounds, and listing all valued UK pubs as ACVs would cost millions of pounds and create significant bureaucracy; and therefore calls on the Government to make a simpler change and put pubs into the sui generis category so that communities can comment on a proposal to convert or demolish a pub.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for this important debate, which probably affects every constituency. I pay special tribute to the hon. Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris). This is a cross-party motion on something that is incredibly common sense and popular throughout the country.

The Government have done a lot on pubs, but there is still a problem that needs solving, and every Member could give examples to show the Government the importance of the measure we are proposing. Every week, 31 pubs are closing and two are converted into supermarkets, with absolutely no chance for the community to have its say.

We had a vote on the issue two weeks ago when we attempted to amend the Infrastructure Bill. Sadly, we were defeated, but that does not change the fact that many of us remain completely convinced that we need to move pubs into a planning use class of their own—the sui generis planning class, for those of us who love our Latin—to protect them properly. That would not mean making an exception to any rule; it would not be an unusual thing to do. It would simply apply to pubs the kind of protections that exist for slightly counter-intuitive things in many ways, such as laundrettes, night clubs, petrol stations and scrap yards. It seems an extraordinary omission that pubs are not included in that planning category and that the Government put such energy into preventing them from being so.

The solution that I and other hon. Members have proposed has several advantages. It is simple, it would involve an easy change to the law and it would not require any more bureaucracy. That is in contrast to other measures that we have considered such as article 4s and assets of community value, which are bureaucratic, are difficult for the public to access and to find out about, and cost significantly more money.

The measure we are proposing is consistent. We protect other types of building in this way, which many would argue do not have the community significance of pubs, or at least do not have any more significance than pubs. Therefore, we would not be singling out pubs for special treatment; we would simply be applying to pubs the type of treatment we already permit for other valued community facilities.

The hon. Lady is making a strong argument. Does she agree that this is in accordance with the Government’s own localism principles? It is hardly revolutionary, and in terms of saving money the alternative proposed by the Government of listing pubs as assets of community value incurs a considerable cost while this is a simpler, more cost-effective way to ensure protection.

I completely agree. This is the kind of localism the Government have been pushing very strongly in other areas, empowering local authorities and empowering the planning system. Although I can see where they are coming from with the concept of the asset of community value, it is much more expensive and much more bureaucratic. I am also concerned that it is inequitable for the communities whose pubs it seeks to protect in that it will be easier for those communities that are more engaged in the political process and find it easier to be so—such as those where English is the first, rather than the second, language—to find out how to make the pub an asset of community value. Others may not find it so easy. I am therefore concerned that that mechanism may result in an inequitable protection of community assets that are equally loved and valued across different areas.

It is surprising that the Government do not seem to be taking the same view of localism on this one occasion as they are in other areas. Because I believe in the Government’s localism agenda, I urge them to rethink this and roll out their concept of localism that they have been pushing so effectively over the last four years to this item in planning.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her engagement in this subject and on the work she has done on pubs along with the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), and I was very proud to vote for the market rate alternative. My only concern about what she is proposing is that if a pub is struggling and could be readily used for another purpose, the banks will allow it some leeway to give it more time to turn its fortunes around because they will be able to get their money back, whereas if an alternative use was less certain, they may pull the plug immediately. Can she reassure me that her proposal would not lead to pubs that are struggling having the plug pulled on them earlier than would otherwise be the case?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a good point. I do not think that would be the case, and it is certainly not the case in respect of other facilities to which this applies. Another Government objection to this idea is that it would result in boarded-up pubs. That is certainly not the case. One of the major merits of this proposal is, simply, that it is fair. It gives communities the ability to have their say, but if a pub is genuinely unviable it would be allowed to fail and would have planning permission granted, because local authorities have every incentive not to see boarded-up properties. We do not see the high streets littered with boarded-up laundrettes.

I think we could all name pubs in our constituencies that are unviable and which the community does not need, and which perhaps historically have been run so badly for many years that it is hard to pick them up and change their reputation, and which are turned to other uses that are welcomed in the community. The Foresters pub in my constituency was turned into a supermarket. That is not something I would generally celebrate, but it has not been the end of the world. It has been a change that many people have welcomed, and our proposal would not in any way stop this kind of change taking place. It would simply allow people their say in the planning procedure before it takes place.

There are many local examples, and I am sure hon. Members could list ones in their own constituencies, where we have lost valued pubs of community value. The Bourne End in Brentry in my constituency was demolished very quickly and many in the community wanted the chance to have their say. There was nowhere near enough time to list it as an asset of community value. The developers simply came in and it was gone.

On the Government’s suggestion that local authorities should list pubs that are genuinely valued as an asset of community value, is the hon. Lady aware of the number of pubs that would be protected in that way out of the 48,000 in total? I am sure that she is, because she will have read the briefings from the Campaign for Real Ale and the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign.

The hon. Gentleman prompts me in a timely way. As I understand it—he will correct me if I am wrong—the number of pubs that currently have asset of community value status is around 600. That speaks for itself in regard to the efficacy, accessibility and ease of the Government’s measure. I will come back to that point.

I shall not be able to take part in the debate later, owing to an unavoidable meeting. I speak as a life member of CAMRA, and as a wine drinker. Ought we not to remember that the term “public house” suggests that the public have an interest in such places? Does my hon. Friend agree that more pressure needs to be put on the Government in order to help them to realise that it would be popular all round if the public had an opportunity to express their views on a proposed change of use? It would not be an unnecessary hindrance to the normal changes of market or other patterns of behaviour.

As ever, my hon. Friend makes his point pithily; it would have taken me much longer to make that point. We are talking about public houses.

I reiterate my bewilderment and confusion that the Government are not embracing what seems to be a common-sense measure. Our proposal does not involve any exceptions to any rules; it would simply roll out an existing state of affairs to an asset of community value—with small letters, not capital letters—that it is intuitive to protect. I am simply bewildered that the Government have expended so much political capital in defending what appears to be a complex solution in relation to something that we all want to see happen.

It is a pleasure to be working with my hon. Friend again, and I am delighted that we have secured this debate. I shall not go into the huge amount of bureaucracy and enormous costs involved in the Government’s very partial solution, but does she share my concern that a lot of right hon. and hon. Members seem not to understand that many of the pubs that are being lost, by being turned into supermarkets and so on without the need for planning permission, are in many cases not only viable but trading profitably at the time? This is predatory purchasing; it is not a change of market. Those pubs are not failing.

Absolutely; this is not about a change of market. What is so frustrating is that we could all list examples of profitable, viable, popular pubs that have been taken over through predatory purchasing. Our proposal would play a significant part in stopping the aggressive consumption of pubs that the public value and want to keep. They are at the heart of our high streets and are massively important for employment. They also promote healthier drinking habits, compared with going to the supermarket, buying enormous packs of cut-price booze and consuming them at home or on a park bench.

The hon. Lady has just made the excellent point that the Government are trying to get people to stop binge drinking, and that responsible landlords do not allow binge drinking in their local community pubs. However, the loss of those community pubs to supermarkets is providing an outlet for yet more binge drinking to be achieved.

The hon. Gentleman describes the contrast between the two options perfectly. Pubs prevent the kind of binge drinking that is now causing a public health crisis, and a mental health crisis, in many of our communities. They also create inter-generational dialogue, and many pubs now have to be eating establishments to be successful, which promotes eating alongside drinking.

I reiterate that I am confused by the Government’s solution, and I feel sorry for the Minister for having to defend that policy. It has already been decided, but I just do not see the advantage in the Government sticking so stubbornly to a decision that seems to make no practical sense whatever and, in the run-up to the election, no political sense either. I am simply bemused. That is why I have been glad to be able to work cross- party with other Members on proposing such a valuable change. I am further bemused because the Government have done a lot for pubs and it is not as though we are not a pub-friendly Government. I am very proud of what we have achieved on pubs, which is why it is such a shame that in the final hours of this Parliament, when we are about to call time, the Government are not finishing with a flourish and doing something that will really make a difference to our communities.

The Government have ended the beer duty escalator and made cuts in beer duty, which is all very welcome to pubs, landlords and customers across the country; we have made jobs tax cuts for small businesses—pubs employ a lot of young people, with, I believe, half the people employed in pubs being between the ages of 16 and 25; we have managed to get through, helped in particular by the drive and determination of the hon. Member for Leeds North West, reform to the pubco regulations, so that the predatory nature of the largest pubcos can be mitigated; and we have put in community rights to buy and challenge. All that is very welcome and we are obviously a pub-friendly Government, which is why I simply do not understand why such resistance is being put up to this measure.

The Government have offered us a concession of an improvement on the asset of community value arrangement, whereby if pubs are assets of community value, planning permission will be required for a change of use. I sincerely hope, however, that the Government revisit our suggestion after the election—sadly there is not going to be time to do it now. I reiterate the problems that hon. Members have explored on assets of community value. In the debate on the Infrastructure Bill, the Government said, “Oh well, you only need 21 people to put their names on a piece of paper and that’s it, bingo, you’ve got an asset of community value.” That was misleading because the reality is a lot more complicated, a lot more bureaucratic and far less accessible than the impression that was given by Ministers to Members, who then voted accordingly, thinking that if they get 21 names from the community down on a piece of A4, everything is dandy and “everything is awesome”—to quote “The LEGO Movie”. The process is not like that at all; it is time-consuming. I urge every Member to run a campaign, perhaps with their local newspaper—we also hope we will get national support for this—to get their pubs listed as assets of community value, because I do not see how that is going to happen without a very concerted effort.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and apologise for not being here at its start—it came slightly earlier than I thought it would. On the basis that the Government are unlikely to make a concession today, would it be useful to ask the Minister whether he accepts that if colleagues do exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) suggests—I have said in my constituency that I will support any community group wishing to follow this course of action—and after 12 months we have not made a significant difference to the number of pubs given this protection, the Government will look at this issue again? Might we seek a concession from the Minister today to review this in 12 months’ time if what the Government propose is not really working?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent suggestion, and I put it directly to the Minister. The current state of affairs is not good, but if we could get the commitment to a review in 12 months’ time, no matter how Parliament and the Government stand then, that would be at least some cold comfort to those of us who feel that common sense has been denied in this instance.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend spoke first, because his point was perhaps even more substantial than mine, which is quite substantial. Perhaps by speaking to my hon. Friend, through you, Mr Speaker, the Minister might hear that we would like to get from him at the end of the debate an answer as to whether the deregulation unit has actually looked at what the cost is for each successful application to make a pub an asset of community value, what the effort required is and why so much effort is required from the local authority as well. The costs ought to put on those who are trying to get the change of use of the pub. The Minister has a good reason to say that he, his party and the whole coalition Government stand up for making life easier and putting the burdens where they should be, which is on the person who wants to change things, not on those who want to keep them as they are—I speak as a good Conservative.

I thank my hon. Friend very much, and he reminds me that I made an error and should have gone through Mr Speaker earlier. I profusely apologise for that. It seems strange for a Government of the people to have a default position whereby the people do not get a say; the default position should be that people do get a say, and I shall reiterate my bewilderment until I am blue in the face. We need particular answers from the Government following our discussions on the Infrastructure Bill. Most importantly, with regard to the Government’s recent movement, which is not nearly enough but is welcome none the less, we need to know when it will be brought forward, because we have very little time left. It has to be introduced before the election. Indeed, there was a commitment in the debate to do just that, so I hope the Minister will tell us exactly when it will happen. If he does not, this House will have been very much let down, and I know that he is not the kind of person who would want to do that.

What will the Government do to make the asset of community value process much easier for councils and communities to take up so that it can have real effect? As Members, we are often on the ground in our communities and we know that there has to be a game-changing revolution to the way in which the process is communicated and delivered. It needs to be as accessible as possible because it is a democratic way of protecting our pubs.

How will the Department for Communities and Local Government help publicise the change, so that more communities take it up? Members have indicated that they will do their utmost to publicise the scheme, but if the Government believe that the policy should be accessible to communities they have to make it so. More detail on how we do that would be welcome.

I very much hope—as the Minister can probably tell—that the Government will look again at this solution. It makes common sense and is so much in line with everything the Government have done, both as a localist Government who believe in empowering the people, and a Government who are friendly to pubs. I would appreciate some reassurance from the Government on what they will do to address this situation, which is not ideal by any means. I would be grateful for a small move in the right direction. I hope the Minister’s ears have been opened further to our suggestions, which are after all common sense.

It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie). We certainly welcomed her application for this debate at the Backbench Business Committee. I am really glad that the environment is calmer today than it was two weeks ago when we last debated this matter. I am sorry that her amendment was defeated so narrowly, but it did demonstrate the strength of feeling across the House. As she says, pubs are not just buildings where alcohol is sold, but community hubs where people meet, relax and socialise. Pubs have done a lot to ensure that they reach out to their communities. They are now a place for, among other things, knitting circles and salsa dancing. It is unbelievable what happens in pubs today.

As the hon. Lady says, about 30 pubs a weeks are closing. It is often the case that they are closing because they are not used or because the demographic has changed. Everybody supports the idea that they should not be boarded up but used for something else. Her suggestion, and what the Opposition have been calling for, is perfectly sensible. We should give local communities a say in what happens to their pub, in the way that they would if it were a nightclub, a theatre, or, as the Library briefing says, a scrapyard. Local communities would get a say in the change of use from a scrapyard to a supermarket, so why not a pub?

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised an important point. Many pubs are heavily used. This is about not whether a pub is used, but whether the brewery, the pubco, or the property developing company that owns these pubs as assets can make more money out of them by selling them to supermarkets or by using them as pubs. That is the key issue that I want to get across today.

I am involved in a campaign in New Whittington, in North East Derbyshire, where the Wellington pub is, at this very moment, under threat of being turned into a supermarket. I just wanted to talk a little about what happens when a pub applies to be an asset of community value. It is not straightforward as the Government would have us believe. We helped to get asset of community value status for another pub, The Angel at Spinkhill, and it was incredibly stressful. Spinkhill is tiny and New Whittington is not much bigger. People love going to their pub, but unlike many of the property developing companies and pubcos they do not have the time, money or power to navigate a complex system to get that status, which only protects the pub from being sold for six months, giving the local community a chance to buy it and to run it as a co-op or as a community facility. That is not necessarily what they want to do. They want to have a pub, but running it themselves is quite a big ask and, especially in deprived communities in which those pubs are the only asset, that can be a serious issue.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and I thank her for her support and for that of the Backbench Business Committee. She raises an important point about a weakness in the ACV system for pubs. A lot of the time, smaller breweries and smaller pub companies cannot buy pubs. This is not all about community ownership: these companies are trying to buy pubs, they want to buy them and to make a success of them, but they are not because of the ridiculous permitted development rights.

Absolutely, and those are the unforeseen consequences of such legislation. We are just asking for a level playing field within the planning laws.

I want to come back to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) about the amount of money this system costs a local authority at a time when district councils, which are tiny with small budgets, have had their budgets slashed and cut to the bone. The amount of red tape involved in seeing the process of applying and receiving asset of community value status through is onerous. As I have said, our pub has petitioned the local authority and with luck, at the beginning of March, it will suspend the whole process. That is very stressful for members of the local community and this is a very difficult time for them. That is the problem: they are running against the clock. They have jobs and lots of other things in their busy lives, and they do not necessarily have the time to commit to such things in the way that pubcos, property developers and others do when they try to buy these pubs and turn them into supermarkets.

I want to say a big thank you to Viky Muddiman, who is running the “Save our Welly” campaign, to BBC Radio Sheffield, which has covered the issue at great length, and to The Chesterfield Post as well. I wish all those pubs that are applying for asset of community value status the best of luck in doing so, but it would be much better if we could get a quick change in the planning laws to equalise the system, ensure that all pubs are playing on a level playing field and give locals a say in what happens to their pubs.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on introducing this important debate and the Backbench Business Committee on granting it. I have seen quite a lot of the workings of the pubco trade in my role on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee during work on our various reports. It has become quite clear that many large pub companies are really property-owning companies. The fact that their properties tend to be pubs is rather a sideline from their point of view. The companies are heavily leveraged and in debt and are looking at their assets to see what is the best way of working the building assets, rather than running them as pub chains, as we would like them to.

I am pleased that the industry will be regulated and that the Government have taken up the recommendations of my Committee and are introducing an independent adjudicator to ensure that rules are followed to prevent the exploitation of the remaining landlords in the pub trade, who have been suffering. This is another issue and might, in a sense, be an unintended consequence of cracking down on the exploitation of tenants. Companies are now looking around and saying that it would be much easier to sell the property off or rent it out to a supermarket and to make more money that way.

Two particular closures in my constituency of Castle Point have caused enormous controversy and upset. The King Canute pub on Canvey served its last customer in May 2014. The pub, one of Canvey’s most historic buildings, was originally called the Red Cow, but during the devastating flooding of 1953, in which many Canvey residents sadly lost their lives, it was at the doors of the pub that the water stopped—hence its renaming. It also served as a base for the armed forces, from which they helped residents during the floods.

I spoke to the landlady about a week before the news broke about the closure, and asked, “How’s business?” She was doing an awful lot of good stuff. I had attended several events that she had held for local charities in the pub and lent my backing to them. When I spoke to her, she was very positive and upbeat; so the closure came as an enormous surprise, not only to her and her staff but to customers and local residents.

The pub is in an historic building, highly valued by the community. It is intrinsic to the history of Canvey Island, unusual and quirky. We have been told that it is likely to become a Co-op but, despite assurances, there is no guarantee that we will even keep the building, which is beloved of residents and is a treasured community asset. So it is heritage, as well as community benefit and service to several charities, that the pub offered. The law gives no protection against demolition, other than the good will of the owners. I am lobbying to get the building listed as a heritage asset, even though it is not in itself very historic or special. However, it is an old building for Canvey and it is very well loved and particular to the island.

The same fate occurred to the Silver Jubilee pub on Canvey. As its name suggests, it opened in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s silver jubilee. It was a very well liked local pub. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) mentioned knitting circles, and groups including a local knitting group, met regularly at the Silver Jubilee and they are now deprived of a place to go. When the area in which the pub stands was laid out and developed, the pub was considered necessary; it was integral to the plans for the area and there is no other pub nearby for local residents.

The closure came as a great surprise because there was no evidence that the pub was not successful. It seems that it simply was not turning sufficient profit for the big firms, who have been able to convert it to a mini Morrisons. Not only have they converted it to a supermarket and put flats above it, but they have now applied for permission to build houses on the adjoining car park.

A wise man—Ray Howard, the long-serving and very smart local councillor, who has served Canvey Island continuously since I was six months old—pointed out that if a single application had been submitted to turn the pub into a supermarket with flats above and to build houses on the car park, the change would have been a large enough to trigger some section 106 development money for the community. However, because the owners did not need to get permission for change of use for the actual building, they have managed to get through a loophole. That funding could have been used to put in a slip road for what many residents find a very difficult junction and that would help them get out into heavy traffic. We are trying to obtain that slip road none the less, but without that funding.

I reiterate what hon. Members have said. Pubs are community assets. They serve the public in a variety of ways. They have plenty of community uses and some have strong historic value locally. They are currently left with incredibly little protection. I believe they should be recognised as community assets as a default position—not one that requires a long, elaborate process, which residents are often not aware of and do not realise that they could have followed until it is too late. I urge the Minister to look at the matter again, so that such a long process is not required to establish pubs’ value in the future.

Obviously, if a pub is not profitable, that is a different issue. In the cases that I have described, however, the pubs seemed perfectly profitable—although they possibly would have been more profitable if they had not been tied in to a pubco—but they had immense value in the current property market. That is the cause of the problem. It really is time that the Government looked at this, because their other efforts to help the public house trade, by removing beer duty and so on, will mean nothing if pubs are simply turned into supermarkets.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Members who have spoken. I thank and pay tribute to fellow officers of the all-party save the pub group—the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), who opened the debate so succinctly and precisely, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), who has been such a dogged and long-standing campaigner for Save the Pub. I add my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, which does such a sterling job in identifying subjects for debate that are dear to the hearts of Members and constituents.

We often say that there should be more cross-party consensus, particularly on policies relating to the NHS and social care, but a long journey starts with a single step, and perhaps on this topic, which has attracted support across all parties, we may be able to reach consensus. I am sorry that the Minister has slipped out for a moment, as hon. Members have made some excellent suggestions for a way forward.

My contention is that a way forward was offered by an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill that was tabled by me and the hon. Members for Leeds North West and for Bristol North West, which attracted the support of 38 Members of Parliament. The proposal was hardly revolutionary: to promote diversity, it offered some choice. It did not offer any permanent protection; it was simply an attempt to introduce community consultation to try to prevent viable pubs being closed and steamrollered into an alternative use, usually as a supermarket.

I echo the disappointment of the hon. Member for Bristol North West at the response of the Government, who have sought to block every effort to support tenants and safeguard our pubs. At all stages the Government seek to water down and amend legislation to favour powerful self-interests in the pub industry—those of the large pub companies—rather than working in the best interests of communities, customers and tenants. It is a shame that this debate is necessary at all. New clause 16 to the Infrastructure Bill would have made quite a simple change to the planning laws, empowering communities to protect their local pubs from being demolished or converted into supermarkets without consultation.

Earlier hon. Members were trying to differentiate pubs that are clearly no longer viable as pubs and those that have support and are clearly viable, and that perhaps offer a range of services, such as restaurants. As today’s motion notes, the existing planning laws in relation to permitted development are causing valued and viable community pubs to be targeted by supermarkets. Hon. Members have given examples in Canvey Island, Bristol and North East Derbyshire, where that is precisely what has happened. In east Durham, in Easington, which has 18 villages and two large towns, there have been so many pub closures that there may be one pub left in a village. In some villages—Hawthorn, Dalton-le-Dale, Hesledon—there may be one or perhaps even two pubs, but there is considerable pressure, particularly on the tenants of pubs that are owned by the large pubcos. As we have heard, research from the Campaign for Real Ale suggests that a considerable number of pubs—I have a figure of 29, but the hon. Member for Bristol North West said that it is 31, and I am sure she is correct—are closing every week, and quite a number of those are being converted into supermarkets.

I greatly appreciated the widespread support that was shown for new clause 16, which offered such protections for community pubs. It was defeated only following a late intervention from the Government when the Minister made a token concession to remove pubs listed as an asset of community value from permitted development rights. While new clause 16 would have protected all pubs, the Government’s amendments potentially protect only 600 of the 48,000 pubs in the UK. This comes from a Government—on both sides of the coalition—who believe in and promote localism. Requiring ACV status to protect one’s local simply adds unnecessary bureaucracy and costs when a much simpler alternative is to empower local people. I am at a loss to understand why the Government believe that nightclubs, launderettes and casinos should have more protection than community pubs.

By opposing planning protections for pubs, the Government have failed to protect pubs and community interests. Not only that, but we continue to see efforts to water down an important decision of this House to empower pub tenants against pub-owning companies. That is an important factor in the many conversions. Last year, the House expressed its clear will to offer tenants a market-only rent option as part of a statutory code of practice between themselves and a large pub-owning company. I recognise that we have a planning Minister here and the purview of ministerial responsibility is perhaps not entirely his, but it is germane to the debate that we consider the implications. Importantly, such a safeguard would help to protect the tied publican who may be struggling financially. Some 46% of tied tenants earn less than £15,000 a year despite their hard work and, in most cases, long hours. Nearly nine out of 10—the exact figure is 88%—identified the beer tie as one of their most significant financial problems.

The market rent-only option agreed by the House helps to level the playing field and redress the balance of power between the tenant and the pub-owning company. That may relieve the pressure that is leading to so many pub closures—31 per week, as I said. It is important to note that the market rent-only option would not end the beer tie—as some critics have claimed, saying that it would be a retrograde step—but would ensure that pub-owning companies had to show real value to their tenants in order to retain the tie.

Despite the House’s support and the benefits to tenants, Tory peers—including some with clear vested interests, if I may say so—have been trying to exempt pub companies from the market rent-only option if they significantly invest in a tenant’s pub. “Significant investment” is an incredibly wide concept. While I am not surprised that a peer with a pecuniary interest would try to undermine the statutory code, I am more concerned about the Government’s efforts to reword and water down the protections of the market rent-only option without consulting MPs, or Fair Deal For Your Local campaigners, prior to inserting replacement clauses into the statutory pubs code legislation.

Subsequently there has been some consultation with the various interest groups, all of which the members of the all-party save the pub group have met, including Fair Deal For Your Local, the Campaign for Real Ale and trade unions representing pub landlords, such as my own union, Unite, and the GMB. Importantly, however, despite promising to do so, the Government did not consult in advance and the discussions seem to have taken place after decisions have been made.

Simon Clarke from the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign is an outstanding advocate in defence of our pubs. He has warned that one revised clause means that existing tenants will not have the option of a parallel rent assessment, resulting in a tied tenant being unable to determine whether they would be worse off than if they were free of tie. That was an absolutely key principle of the Bill and Ministers gave us an assurance from the Dispatch Box that that would be the case.

A Government Minister said in the other place that Ministers

“are always discussing these issues and changes with tenants”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 December 2014; Vol. 757, c. 1243.]

However, despite such assurances, Mr Simon Clarke describes the Government’s amendments as

“an attempt to bulldoze through amendments without the dialogue and consultation promised.”

The Government should explain their position.

I have a number of questions to put to the Minister. Why are the Government failing to support local communities to protect their pubs? What are their objections to allowing local people a say in the planning process when a change of use is proposed for a pub? Will the Minister guarantee that he and the Government will work with MPs and campaigners to ensure that the explicit will of the House of Commons in supporting a market rent-only option in a statutory code is not undermined or watered down in the other place, because that would simply compound the problem?

It is time for the Government to do more than pay lip service to supporting communities, consumers and tenants, and to safeguard pubs and begin to offer some practical support. As my Health Committee colleague the hon. Member for Bristol North West has said, before we call time on this Parliament—that is a really good expression—we should ensure that we can, in unanimity, provide some modest protection to pubs that are in the interests of all our communities.

First, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing us the time for this debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the excellent Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), who is a friend with a small f and the vice-chair of the save the pub group, and all other members of the group from both Houses who share our passionate belief that the British pub is not only important to our society, economy, heritage, history and tourism appeal, but, in the context of this debate, a hugely important part of community life as a place where communities can come together.

I also wish to say a big thank you to all 244 MPs who effectively voted for what we are discussing today to go into the law of the land after the debate on new clause 16 to the Infrastructure Bill, and particularly the 29 rebels who had the courage to vote against their own Whip to show their real support for pubs. I thank the Opposition Front Benchers for supporting that campaign, and I want to give particular mention to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), who had the courage not only to vote against his party, but, in doing so, to resign as a Parliamentary Private Secretary. He really has shown his support for pubs and I hope he has been congratulated on doing so by his local CAMRA branch and others.

I wish to echo the comments by the hon. Member for Easington about thanking the campaigners. In this case, we say a huge thank you to the Campaign for Real Ale, which is leading the wonderful Pubs Matter campaign, and to all the others. He mentioned the Fair Deal For Your Local campaign, the Fair Pint campaign and the wonderful work of Simon Clarke and his team, but there are also Licensees Supporting Licensees, MALT—the new Mutual Association of Licensed Tenants—and the Protect Pubs campaign. There are many campaigners around the country, and there are also individual pub campaigns, some of which have already been mentioned. I thank all such community campaigns and congratulate them on trying to save their pubs, whether or not they are successful.

I am glad that we have the chance for a proper debate today. We did not get the chance for any sort of a debate when the very important, but simple and common-sense, change was proposed a few weeks ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West had four or five minutes to introduce the important new clause and I had two or three minutes to speak, so we did not get the chance to put our case. It worries me that the MPs who were persuaded not to support that simple change did so on the basis of a one-sided argument, because the other side of the argument was not heard and some of the information presented did not reflect the reality of what is going on or of what the Government suggest is sensible.

I thank the Minister for his engagement. We do not agree on a solution, but he is certainly listening and conversing, and I appreciate the time he has given to that. I gently remind him that this very simple change is current Liberal Democrat party policy and is already in our pre-manifesto. I have not yet checked the manifesto, but I hope that it is included, as we were told it would be. It is for CAMRA and other organisations to challenge all the parties to put pro-pub policies in their manifestos.

Today, we are talking about something very simple. In a way, it is not about pubs, but about whether communities should have the right simply to have a say when a significant change of use is threatened for a building that is of value from a business or community point of view. We are talking about absurd planning loopholes. The idea that there is any relationship between a pub and a supermarket express store or solicitors’ office is ridiculous. The fact that free-standing pubs with no protection in the planning system can be demolished overnight before people even get the chance to have a say—it happens—is a scandal.

I believe that there is a better solution, which I will come on to, but the save the pub group welcomes the fact that the Government have announced a modest step forward in providing a right of consultation. Let us be clear that it is not protection for pubs; it is simply a right to comment—that is all—just as people can comment on any planning application. The proposal is only for pubs listed as having added community value. As has been said, only 600 pubs have been so listed in the four years since the scheme was introduced. That is not particularly impressive: it is 1.25% of all the pubs in the country.

The scheme does not even apply in Wales. One of my particular concerns is that that was not mentioned in the explanation from the Department for Communities and Local Government about why the new change is fine. It is not fine: it will do absolutely nothing at all in Wales. Welsh colleagues, particularly those who are Government Members, must be aware of that.

In the Government’s thinking, there is a mantra that we must have permitted development rights because they will allow the sensible changes that people want and that will help business. Apparently, such changes are not allowed for nightclubs, launderettes or theatres, but they are fine for pubs. The Government are effectively saying that nightclubs, launderettes and theatres—and casinos, which have more protection in the planning system —are more important than pubs. They conceded the point on betting shops, which rather undermines their argument. They accepted that if they did nothing and continued to turn a blind eye to betting shop conversions, as they had up to that point, we would see betting shops all along high streets, particularly in London. Therefore they can change, and where they recognise there is a problem, they will change. I share the frustration of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West, and other colleagues, that the Government are simply not listening to something that would bring the system into line with those other, simple uses.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent case about the Government’s modest offer of a compromise. The cost of listing all pubs as assets of community value would fall on local authorities. Are any figures available for that, because those I have seen from the all-party save the pub group suggest that it would cost about £1,000 per listing? We could be talking about many millions of pounds, and I would be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments on that.

I will come on to cover that point.

The problem is the conversion of pubs into supermarkets, and particularly their buying power. CAMRA figures show that two pubs every week are being converted into supermarkets—that is more than 100 a year—and in the past four years, Tesco alone has converted 37 pubs.

I have written to supermarkets as chair of the all-party save the pub group, and the replies I received were simply not honest. Supermarkets claim—I wonder whether this is where the Minister got a mistaken idea about what is really going on—that they are bringing derelict buildings back to life, which is a wonderful thing, and that the pubs were failed businesses. That is absolute rubbish; it is dishonest and they know it. The reality—I urge the Minister to look at this issue—is that secret deals are done behind the backs of communities between large indebted pub companies and supermarket chains. Supermarket chains are deliberately targeting and indulging in the predatory purchasing of larger pub buildings, precisely because they know they can impose stores on a local community without it being able to do anything.

We have the absurdity that a new Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Co-op—it is very engaged in this process—can impose a store on a community that is stunned to find that it has no right to object, yet the supermarket chain then has to submit planning permission for new signage. That sort of thing brings the planning process into disrepute, and from that point of view such a system cannot be defended. Ministers, the Department and some MPs are misunderstanding what is going on.

There is perhaps a little light at the end of the tunnel. We have all seen the figures and the fact that Tesco has got itself into a terrible mess—as out-of-control big business sometimes does. One Tesco store that was announced will now be closing—so much for bringing things to the local economy. Tesco will be closing the Tesco Express in South Tottenham, which used to be the Golden Stool and before then The Mitre. Having taken that pub away without the community having a say, Tesco is walking away and leaving a derelict building—so much for this being a wonderful thing for business and communities. Not only are supermarkets buying premises, they are leasing pubs from pub companies—an even sneakier and easier thing to do.

Of all the arguments I have heard in this place, the Government’s argument on this issue is one of the weakest and it is absolutely full of holes. It includes stating that somehow laundrettes, theatres and even nightclubs are apparently more important to DCLG than pubs. That is because the situation has been presented as somehow being about the derelict pubs we see around—at least one hon. Member has mistakenly taken that view to be a fact. The Minister told us about derelict pubs in Bristol, but those pubs are derelict even with the permitted development rights—that issue has absolutely nothing to do with it. Many pubs have now shut, but that goes back to the unfair business model of the large pub companies that Members across the House have mentioned. I pay tribute to the work of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that was instrumental in exposing that and leading finally to change.

I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Easington about the moves to water down what we voted through on 18 November, and we all need to be aware of that.

The derelict buildings are nothing to do with it. We are talking about viable, wanted and profitable pubs. I would love to know what every right hon. and hon. Member who voted against new clause 16 will say when a constituent walks into their surgery and says, “We are losing our local pub. We have just found out that Enterprise Inns or Punch Taverns have sold it to Tesco, Co-op, Lidl or Sainsbury’s. Will you help us to oppose that?” They will sit there and say, “There’s nothing you can do, because they have the absolute right to do it. You can list it, but by then it will be too late.” As has already been mentioned, the ACV process is used reactively. It is used only when people see there is a threat to a pub. In some cases, that is far, far too late.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) submitted an interesting freedom of information request. Of all the assets of all types—not just pubs—only 11 have been bought by communities. CAMRA knows of about 10 pubs now in community ownership that are listed as ACVs, but it cannot say whether the ACV initiative led to the pubs being saved, or whether that came later. The reality is that probably fewer than 10 pubs, of the 600, have actually been saved. It is fair to say that some of them have not yet been threatened, but only 10 have been saved.

I have already mentioned the problem with not giving commercial companies, the small breweries and small pub companies—who, incidentally, are thriving as the big pub companies fail—an adequate chance in this process. The Golden Harp in Maidenhead had ACV status, but then became a Tesco. The council turned down an article 4 direction, which is the other way in which DCLG suggests this can be dealt with. About 42 pubs in London that have ACV status are currently closed. Many are simply being land-banked, because developers know that if they sit on them for long enough, they will probably get whatever planning permission they want or need, or they will go ahead anyway.

We have to debunk the myth that going through the planning system to give people the right to a say somehow means that a pub is not only protected—it is not—but cannot become another use. That is simply untrue and it is wrong for Ministers to suggest otherwise. The truth is that viable and profitable pubs are being lost even when planning permission is needed. Indeed, in the constituency of the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), Ye Olde Dun Cow in Cowbit had ACV status. There was a community campaign to bring it back to life, but permission was given to demolish it.

The Summercross in my own constituency—one of my local pubs in Otley—was, after a hard fought campaign, turned into a care home, despite the fact that we gave the council figures to show that the pub was trading profitably when it was deliberately closed by a developer. The owner of Hooper’s in Camberwell obtained planning permission to convert it to a house even though it had ACV status. The Tumbledown Dick in Farnborough, an ACV pub, was partially demolished and is now in use as a McDonald’s against the wishes of the local community. The George IV in Brixton, the Emperor in Ipswich, the Chesham Arms in Hackney—this is not a happy picture, even when people do have to go through the planning process, so the Minister may seriously think that even if they make this limited change, or even if we get the new clause changed, it will save lots of pubs and stop conversions, but that is simply not the case.

There is a dangerous loophole that I urge the Minister to address. If an ACV pub is sold as a going concern, that bypasses the six-month moratorium, even if it is a deliberate sale as a temporary going concern where the intention is clearly to end its use as a pub. That undermines the position hugely.

We need a clear announcement. I hope and suspect we will get from the Minister today an idea of when, in the eight weeks left of this Parliament, we will hear that announcement. This is our last chance. I share the voice echoed by the hon. Member for Bristol North West. I urge the Government, even now, to think again, and this is where we come on to costs. I asked the chief executive of Leeds city council to give me its costs of every ACV status. The reply was that on average an assessment and approval of a nomination up to the stage of being first added or otherwise to the list of assets of community value costs around £1,070 in officers’ time. It also pointed out that the DCLG guidance states that on average a nomination should take 8.3 hours, but officers from Leeds city council estimate it takes twice as long. That, of course, does not include the time it may take to consider a formal review of a decision, any resource required if a review should go to a tribunal stage, or any time to deal with administering the process when an owner informs of the intention to dispose of an asset. That is without even the possibility of legal challenge, which is quite likely.

May I add to that very long list? The hon. Gentleman talks about officers’ time. What is the cost of the time of members of the local community who are putting in time, effort and a lot of resource?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right and I will come on to that point once I have presented the view of the local authority. I do not doubt that the Government believe in localism—I believe in localism myself—but localism does not mean passing the buck when the clear responsibility for the use class orders is with national Government and DCLG.

Several surveys have been conducted, including by the Save the Pub group and CAMRA. The Local Government Information Unit has figures showing that 45 out of 49 local authorities said they did consider pubs as valued community assets worthy of protection, and 33 of them said that existing planning regulations do not give sufficient protection to public houses from change of use and demolition. In every single survey, a large majority say that they would welcome the changes we suggest today.

On to the reality for communities, as the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) said, these are ordinary working people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West used the word “misleading”. I worry that, because we did not have the chance to have this debate at the time, there was a sense, certainly on the Government Benches, that all one needs to do to register a pub is to get 21 people. Colleagues would say, “I’m not going to support you, because apparently we have a concession.” Let me read the reality of the situation as set out in the DCLG guidelines, “Community right to bid: non-statutory advice note for local authorities: part 5, chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011”:

“5.1 A nomination must include the following information for the local authority to consider:

I. A description of the nominated land including its proposed boundaries. These boundaries do not have to be the same as ownership boundaries, for instance as shown on the Land Registry plan if the land is registered; nor is it necessary for all parts of the nominated site to be in the same ownership.”

That means communities are expected to go and get plans. They either have to pay the Land Registry—okay, that is not particularly expensive—or they have to produce plans themselves. The guidelines continue:

“II. Any information the nominator has about the freeholders, leaseholders and current occupants of the site.”

How many people living near to a pub would actually know that?

“III. The reasons for nominating the asset, explaining why the nominator believes the asset meets the definition in the Act.

IV. The nominator’s eligibility to make the nomination.”

That is not 21 people saying that they think a pub is important. The Minister and the Department have given the impression that this is a wonderful way to get all valued pubs listed, but there are thousands and thousands and thousands of valued pubs. The majority of the pubs we still have left of the 48,000 are valued, yet multiple applications cannot be made.

I have exciting news for the House. The first multiple application, as a test case, will be made next week in my town of Otley, in my constituency, by the wonderful community organisation, Otley Pub Club. Otley has 20 pubs. As an Otley resident and occasional user of those pubs, I can assure the House that all 20 pubs are highly valued by Otley Pub Club and the local community. They are going to seek to list all 20 of them, which has never been done before. We will see what happens.

I want to make the case for why the Government’s proposal is the wrong change and ours is the right one. If the applications are regarded as average and simple, listing all 20 valued pubs in Otley will cost £21,400 of taxpayers’ money and take 332 hours of officers’ time. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister chuntering from a sedentary position, but listing costs local authorities money, and several councils have said it amounts to about £1,000. It is more for an article 4 direction—more like £2,000, £3,000 or £4,000 per pub. To list all the valued pubs in the country, therefore, would cost millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, and that is not acceptable simply because it is local authority money, rather than central Government’s money. It is irresponsible, given that there is a much simpler solution and that local authorities are extremely hard-pressed with greatly reduced budgets in these difficult times. It simply is not an appropriate way to proceed.

Furthermore, of course, councils can and do turn down ACV schemes. Even if those 21 people go through the time-consuming steps—it took Otley Pub Club six months to produce its 20 forms—of ascertaining the boundaries, working up the plan, finding out who the leaseholders, freeholders and occupants are and giving their reasons for making the application, the local authority can still say no. CAMRA knows of approximately 40 applications that have been turned down. That does not sound like localism to me.

If, as he seems to be, the Minister is absolutely adamant in his view —on that, I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Bristol North West—I and CAMRA have some suggestions, and if he could consider them as part of introducing this proposal, that would be better. Two simple things need to happen if it is to have anything like the impact he suggests: first, we need to make it much easier, less onerous and quicker to get ACV status for pubs and to make it much less likely that a council will refuse; and, secondly, if the Minister is serious about pursuing this measure, we must strengthen ACV status not just by ending permitted development rights but, for example, in the case of the pubs I have mentioned, by making it much harder for developers to go against the will of the community and get planning permission where needed. Such is the power of those large companies that pubs are still being converted and bulldozed, even when the planning process has been followed.

To make this measure meaningful, the Minister should make it possible to submit multiple applications. If people say, “These are the valued pubs in our village”, why should we separate them? If there are three pubs in the village, they might all be valued. If there are 15 pubs in a town, 10 of them might be valued. If so, let the community list all 10. It is obvious and simple and would save local authorities money. In addition, it should not be the responsibility of local communities to establish boundaries. As the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire said, if local communities have to go through that process, they will not always bother.

CAMRA also asks that the Minister close the loophole whereby selling an asset as an ongoing concern bypasses the moratorium—a glaring gap in the Bill—and make the moratorium last longer than six months; it is not enough. If this is seriously about saving pubs, we must extend the moratorium. Furthermore, if he insists on going down this route, we need a new status with more powers; alongside the ACV status, we need a community pub of value status, and then DCLG could put in extra protections specifically for pubs. In Scotland, the legal system is in some ways more progressive, certainly in respect of the planning system. We should also establish a genuine community right to buy, rather than our very weak right to try—the right to put in a bid that in the end can simply be ignored.

I hope I have shown that the simple change of allowing local communities the basic right to comment—not just to object, but to support—on a significant change of use to a pub would be cheap and easy. The Government’s suggestion is a welcome but modest step forward. Even if, as we hope, more pubs are listed, many wanted, viable pubs will still close. That is a fact. It baffles me why this Government, who are committed to localism and have said they want to be the most pro-pub Government ever, have proposed a solution that is not pro-pub but is more bureaucratic, much less effective, partial, will take much longer and will cost millions more in taxpayers’ money than what we could achieve with one simple vote and change, through secondary legislation, to the use class orders.

In the last eight weeks of the Parliament, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to do the sensible and obvious thing and put pubs in the sui generis category, alongside theatres, casinos, laundrettes and nightclubs. It is the simple and obvious thing to do. If the Government want to leave a legacy as a pro-pub Government, that is the announcement we need to hear in the next few weeks.

I shall be comparatively brief.

I wish to be a little more generous to the Minister than some speakers. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) on having secured this debate and the Backbench Business Committee on having supported it. Having been both pubs Minister and planning Minister, I am conscious that planning policy is always a balance, and striking a balance does not always make us popular—sometimes, we are about as popular as the landlord calling time on a crowded Saturday night—but it has to be done. I am therefore much more supportive of the Minister’s position.

That does not mean that, in the light of experience, planning policy cannot be improved, and I think that the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) has made some sensible suggestions that we ought to listen to, as too has my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West. I was also impressed by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris). In particular, I join in her tribute to Councillor Ray Howard, whom I have worked with over many years. He is rightly nicknamed Mr Canvey, and after almost 40 years of elected service, he now epitomises everything that good local government is about. I am happy to get that on the record.

I believe in pubs. I have been active in a campaign to save a pub in my constituency, and we succeeded within the current regime. There are hurdles, but they are not impossible. Equally, however, those of us who believe in pubs have to be realistic and accept that not every pub is viable or will be an ACV, so we have to take a nuanced approach. I approach this matter slightly differently from my hon. Friends. I am concerned that more pubs are not listed, but I think we should be looking at why we cannot encourage greater uptake of the ACV regime. As one of the Ministers who introduced the regime, I confess I had hoped that communities and local authorities would be more proactive in listing not just pubs but many other types of facility. That is something not just for the Government, but for communities themselves, to look at. In the case of my pub, The Porcupine in Mottingham, ACV status was achieved very quickly.

Surely the reason local communities are not better at listing these assets is that it is so difficult to do, not that they are too lazy.

I do not think that local communities are necessarily lazy. That would be a patronising thing to say about any community. In Mottingham, the community moved swiftly and efficiently, the local authority co-operated and the pub was listed as an ACV very quickly. I do not accept all the criticisms made of the Government’s position.

My hon. Friend is an exceptionally efficient and effective Member. Does he think that the speed of success might have had something to do with his being pubs Minister at that point?

I regret to say that I had departed office by then, although I am delighted to say that the then pubs Minister, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), came down to the constituency and looked at the site—without in any way prejudging the outcome. It was simply that our local councillors, the community and I were quickly on the case. There were some issues—I shall come on to them—where I agree with my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West, but at the end of the day it was possible to do it under the current regime. Does that mean that we cannot improve the regime? No, we can always improve it. Much planning policy develops incrementally in the light of experience.

Let me make a bit of progress before giving way again.

First, we should look at ways of being more proactive about developing the assets of community value regime across the piece. Secondly, we need to do more to encourage the adoption of neighbourhood plans, which enable a greater degree of granularity than in ordinary planning documents. If they are linked to a robust local plan—more and more authorities are introducing those—that, too, provides an opportunity to have plans locally that are attuned to the need to protect pubs in particular areas. That would be a good way forward too.

In the case of Mottingham’s public house The Porcupine—a much-loved asset—I had a lot of sympathy with what was said. Enterprise Inns quite cynically ran that pub down, and it is right to say that many of the pub companies have a bad track record of running down pubs essentially to improve their balance-sheet position. Enterprise Inns has long been doing that; it has a deliberate disposal policy. I totally agree with the hon. Member for Leeds North West that that is what we need to address. The debate is about the nuance of how best to do that. In that case, the public house was sold without notice to the community. That is an aspect of the way in which the regime works that we could look at again in the light of experience.

Happily, the Mottingham residents association and our local councillors were in touch with me quickly and we were able to make an application to the local authority, which swiftly had the matter placed on the agenda for the planning committee. A decision was taken and the pub was listed. The local authority, after a hearing, rejected the application. The supermarket Lidl that had bought The Porcupine site appealed. Representatives of the local community and I gave evidence at the public inquiry. I am delighted to say that the inspector rejected Lidl’s appeal, and the time for Lidl to challenge in the High Court has now expired. It was a win for the local community.

We were able to engage the services of the excellent Richard Harwood QC, one of our leading planning lawyers, who put up an exceptional case—[Interruption.] Actually, he was instructed by the local authority. Tribute should be paid to him. He understands the issues and did a great job. I have one or two of his suggestions for further improvements, which I shall put to the Minister in a moment. The point is that this can be done under the current regime, but can we make it easier? I would always like to make it easier for communities to help their pubs in the future.

In the debate on the Infrastructure Bill, the Minister announced certain changes to the assets of community value regime, which I welcome. I would like further clarification of the statement that the secondary legislation would be brought forward at the earliest opportunity. One advantage of doing these things through secondary legislation or planning policy guidance is that we can be more fleet of foot than if primary legislation is used. Can the Minister tell us when this legislation will be introduced? Can he confirm that this will apply to public houses and other assets of community value that have already been listed? That seemed to be the sense of what was being said in his statement, but one or two lawyers have said that it would be good to have absolute clarity on that point. I hope that that will not be difficult to achieve.

We could look at encouraging local authorities to do as the Mayor of London has done. When I read the inspector’s report on The Porcupine case, it was clear that he gave considerable weight to the fact that this was an asset of community value. In fact, the Government’s reforms bit, and were effective in this case. The inspector also gave considerable weight to the policies in the London plan that were introduced by the current Mayor of London to strengthen the protection of public houses in London.

Those policies resulted from a report by Steve O’Connell, the Conservative London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, called “Keeping Local: How to save London’s pubs as community resources”. I recommend it to any Member, as there is no reason why other planning authorities cannot adopt that same useful approach. A number of specific policy lines have been put into the London plan. Members interested in this should look at policy 4.48A, the whole of policy 4.8 and policy 3.1B, all of which deal with the ability of boroughs—indeed, an obligation is placed on them—to bring forward policies to retain, manage and enhance public houses, where there is sufficient evidence of need and of community asset value and viability in pub use. Authorities are also tasked with the need to develop policies to protect valued community assets, and the London plan specifically refers to pubs in that context. Policy 3.1B also specifically refers to the need to protect pubs.

The Mayor’s “Town Centres Supplementary Planning Guidance”, which is given effect by the London plan, also strengthens the position of pubs, including specifically taking into account the continuing viability of use of the public house, the history of vacancy, the prospect of achieving reuse at market value and whether or not it has been effectively marketed. Some of the pubcos go through a sham exercise in marketing, which was exposed in the inquiry into The Porcupine. Frankly, the pubco had simply gone through the motions, and we were able to call an expert who demonstrated that this was not a genuine marketing exercise. These are things that we could sensibly seek to tighten up, and we could do so without direct interference by the Government, but they might like to think about strengthening the guidance to reflect what is already good practice in London in that regard.

There are a couple of other things we could do that would not be too onerous and would still maintain the balance that we always need in planning policy, involving flexibility when needs and circumstances change and vary from area to area. More could perhaps be done to increase the weight given to the harm caused by the loss of non-designated heritage assets. If the asset—often a pub, but it could be a church or something like it—is a listed building, it obviously gets much more significant protection. It might be worth looking at the operation of paragraph 135 of the national planning policy framework to see what could be done to increase the weight given to the harm that would come from losing assets that are of community value, but do not have the status of being listed buildings because of their architectural merit. Something might not be of great architectural merit, but it could still be of great value to the community. We should look at ways of providing help on that.

What my hon. Friend says is precisely relevant to the case of The King Canute, which I raised earlier.

Yes, that is something that it would be good to prevent. I am aware that the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) wanted to intervene earlier. I did not mean to be discourteous to him. Would he like the opportunity to intervene before I finish? If I have covered the point, well and good.

With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he mentions the services of a top barrister, but would it not be much simpler and less bureaucratic—I have heard him arguing for the need to cut costs many times—simply to accept the proposal in the motion? It proposes a simple change to

“put pubs into the sui generis category”,

which would achieve the same ends, be administratively simpler and cost local authorities nothing.

The proposal is initially very attractive, but having looked at the operation of use class orders during the two and a half years when I was a Minister, I warn the hon. Gentleman that we need to be little careful about some of the intended consequences of changes to use classes. I would not rule it out entirely for the future, but we should approach it carefully, incrementally and on an evidence basis. I hope, too, that the decision in The Porcupine case—something of a test case—will make it easier for us to succeed in subsequent legal challenges. We all want the same thing—there is no dispute between us about the objective—so it is the means by which we achieve it that we are debating.

Another suggestion is that we accept extending the need for planning permission to the demolition of commercial buildings, which would be quite straightforward. That was a risk in the Porcupine case, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West raised the issue of what happens if a pub is knocked down, when the building is gone and the chance for restoration to a pub is pretty much lost. My suggestion would be possible following the SAVE Britain’s Heritage judgment in 2011—on my watch—about the Mitchell’s brewery site in Lancaster. The need to give notice before exercising permitted development rights to demolish has been helpful as a result of that judgment because it has enabled article 4 directions to be made. That worked in Lewisham in the case of The Baring Hall public house just over the boundary from me—in the constituency, I believe, of the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), whom I am delighted to see in her place on the Opposition Front Bench today. That did work, but we might be able to build on it and make it simpler to achieve.

Finally, let me salute the work that CAMRA has done over the years. CAMRA was a great help to us during The Porcupine case, and it might be able to help us again. Now that we have a site that is vacant—not demolished, I am delighted to say—we need someone to offer to take it off Lidl’s hands and make it commercially viable. CAMRA might be able to take on a brokerage role, working with other bodies, because it contains some very bright and commercially astute people. It could perhaps bring together those who have the money with which to acquire a site—and might be interested in acquiring it—and the local community and local authority.

This has been a very useful debate. If I have adopted a slightly different tone from some other Members, that is not because I am not as passionate about pubs as anyone else—as many will know—but because I want to find a suitably nuanced way in which to achieve our shared objective. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) and for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), for securing the debate, and I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for supporting their application. However, although I am pleased that they secured the debate, I wish that it had not been necessary. All who have spoken today have given excellent expositions of why the planning system should be changed better to protect community pubs, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West provided a very good elucidation of use class changes. I hope to emulate that approach.

Just two weeks ago, I was in the Chamber helping to make the case for the inclusion of new clause 16 in the Infrastructure Bill. Despite cross-party backing, the new clause, alas, failed to overcome the Government’s opposition to it. The background will be familiar to many colleagues who have taken an interest in pubs and in the ways in which the Government’s policies have made life more difficult for them.

As a shadow planning Minister, I was at the forefront of the fight against the changes in permitted development rights which the Government started to force through two years ago. Those changes mean that pubs can, without planning permission, be converted to shops in the A1 use class, including retail warehouses, hairdressers, undertakers, travel and ticket agencies, and post offices. They can be converted to establishments in the A2 use class, including banks, building societies, estate agencies, employment agencies and, of course, betting shops and payday lenders, and to A3-use establishments such as restaurants, cafés and hot food takeaways. They can also be demolished altogether, again without the need for planning permission.

I pointed out in December 2012, during the debate on the Bill that became the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013—and I have done so on other occasions—that the Government’s changes in the law governing permitted development were profoundly anti-localist, and should be opposed. However, I feel that stronger words are needed to describe their continued refusal to back down on the pubs issue in the face of overwhelming opposition from Members in all parts of the House, not to mention local communities up and down the country.

The relaxation of permitted development rights and use class changes have led to a number of unintended consequences. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) is no longer present, because I wanted to draw attention to some of the unintended consequences of his changes, such as the lack of any effective planning for our high streets—where there are currently clusters of payday loan companies—and the inability of local communities to do anything about it or prevent an increase in the number of pub closures. I have described the consequences as unintended because I assume that they are, but it is, of course, possible that the Government really do not care about the increasing number of pub closures or the removal of rights from local communities. How else could we explain their stubborn refusal to back new clause 16? As the hon. Member for Leeds North West put it on that occasion,

“If hon. Members support pubs and support local democracy, they should vote for new clause 16, and if they do not, they should vote against.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 648.]

Unfortunately, too many Members voted against the new clause, and did not examine what the Government were supporting closely enough.

While they have announced some limited measures aimed at tackling the problems that pubs are facing, the Government have failed to take adequate notice of cross-party calls to restore planning protections to community pubs, and the steps that they have announced appear to be wholly inadequate. The Minister has heard that said clearly by Members on both sides of the House today. In the wake of the Government’s successful attempt to scupper new clause 16, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), announced proposals to extend planning protection to pubs that were designated assets of community value, but, as is noted in today’s motion, details of how and when the Government intend to implement that have not been forthcoming—although, obviously, we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say today—and the decision throws up more questions than it answers.

The jury is still very much out when it comes to the right to bid that was introduced by the Localism Act 2011. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, more than 1,800 assets have been listed since the introduction of the right in September 2012. That figure sounds promising, but, as has been shown by research carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), the picture is a great deal murkier than it suggests. Freedom of Information requests to local authorities revealed to him that, of the 122 groups that had triggered a moratorium, 60 were unsuccessful in their bids, while 27 bids were outstanding and only 11 had so far resulted in community buy-outs. That, as was explained earlier, relates to all categories.

According to an excellent report entitled “Community Rights”, which was issued by the Communities and Local Government Committee last week,

“The Community Right to Bid process has achieved some success because the first phase, listing local land or property as an Asset of Community Value…is relatively straightforward. It brings people together and gives them the opportunity to have a say in what happens to valued pubs, shops or community centres if they are put up for sale. But if as it appears, almost 50% of attempts to buy ACVs are unsuccessful, there must be scope for enhancing people’s chances of success with the second and most important—bidding—phase of the Right.”

While the Government’s decision to extend protections to pubs that are designated assets of community value has been welcomed by CAMRA—among others—as a

“step in the right direction”,

the Government have made no attempt to explain how communities will be supported in their efforts to obtain that designation for local pubs. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us today. After all, the difficulties involved in the process, particularly the buying stage, have been described to him clearly.

Ministers are naive if they think that this measure—I would call it a half- measure—is adequate to the task in hand, because it will not extend to pubs the protections that they need. CAMRA has pointed out that some pubs have been designated as assets of community value, only to be converted to other uses. The Select Committee report reminds us that

“Listing a building such as a pub as an ACV does not prevent its change of use under permitted development rights…to a shop, estate agent or restaurant—or indeed its demolition.”

The George IV pub in Brixton is just one example. Its designation as an ACV failed to stop its conversion to a supermarket. Will the Minister tell us what measures, if any, the Government intend to take to address that issue?

Groups such as CAMRA had the foresight that the Government evidently lacked in anticipating a potential loophole in the proposal that could still allow developers to proceed with change of use conversions even when a pub has been ACV-listed. Currently, a pub is removed from the ACV register when it is sold. CAMRA has called on the Government to ensure that the order is strengthened to ensure that the listing of a pub as an ACV would permanently suspend permitted development rights for the premises, avoiding the need for community groups to re-nominate an asset every five years. Will the Minister commit to adopting that common-sense proposal?

Ministers have also said that communities may wish to use article 4 directions to suspend permitted development rights in an area. We know that article 4 directions have been used by a number of authorities. However, it is a very difficult process. Although it is within local authorities’ remit to pursue that option, they must notify the Secretary of State, who reserves powers to modify or cancel most article 4 directions, and for any reason. Given the Secretary of State’s tendency to micro-manage planning departments, we have no faith that he would not interfere in that way.

In 2010, the then planning Minister, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who is now back in his place, went so far as to recommend that local authorities pursue the use of article 4 directions to combat the clustering of betting shops in certain areas and to help to ensure diversity on their high streets. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) pointed out at the time, article 4 directions are very costly for local authorities to pursue. Perhaps they are prohibitively expensive. Article 4 directions are a pretty blunt instrument when it comes to protecting community pubs. In addition to the national planning policy framework requirement that they may only be pursued when there is “clear justification” to do so, there is also potential for heavy-handed oversight from Whitehall. Indeed, Government guidance has made it clear that councils face a hefty financial burden if developers affected by the directions seek financial compensation. The guidance states that

“Local planning authorities may be liable to pay compensation to those whose permitted development rights have been withdrawn”.

Given the rate at which developers up and down the country are stampeding to convert pubs to countless alternative uses—we know that upwards of 30 pubs are now closing each week—there seems to be a gaping loophole in the protections afforded to them. We argue that article 4 directions are not the appropriate protection, even though successive planning Ministers have put that forward.

We criticise the Government’s approach. An issue has been created for communities that wish to protect community pubs. The Government made changes to permitted development rights and then put forward another mechanism so that communities did not have to apply the changes to permitted development rights that the Government put through in the first place. That seems a bit perverse at best. Therefore, Members on the Labour and indeed the Government Benches are suggesting a much simpler approach to protecting community pubs. It is extraordinary that so little is being done to protect our pubs, especially when they face such competition from supermarkets.

Pubs face a double-whammy from supermarkets. Not only can pubs be converted into supermarkets without planning permission, but often local supermarkets sell cheap alcohol and make it readily available, whereas, because of the way our licensing laws operate, pubs can promote more responsible drinking and ensure that a restaurant and food are available. The Government have to deal with that issue. Why not tackle the supermarket issue and the availability through supermarkets of cheap alcohol, rather than attacking pubs in this way?

The Government should today show support for this excellent motion. They should forget about cumbersome applications for assets of community value to protect pubs. They should wake up to the fact that article 4 directions are not an appropriate mechanism to protect pubs. They should recognise the additional burdens that assets of community value designations and all aspects of the relaxation of permitted development are placing on councils, without the resources to deal with the extra work, and with many also suffering from the Government’s unfair local government cuts. The Government should do the sensible thing and return the determination of permitted development and use class changes to local authorities and the communities they represent, so that they have the means to protect pubs should they wish to do so.

As is customary, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for the debate and congratulate the sponsors of the motion. Much more significant congratulations are due to my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), because last night she announced her engagement. These days, we find out these things via Twitter; that is how I discovered the news last night. I am delighted publicly to congratulate her and John, who happens to be a friend, on their engagement. I wish them many happy years together. Hopefully, my hon. Friend and I will agree on a few other things as I proceed, too.

Recently, we discussed these same issues during debate on the Infrastructure Bill. I am glad that we have had more time to do so today. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) was deeply frustrated that there was not sufficient opportunity to rehearse the issues fully at that point. The Bill introduced a huge raft of changes. It was not possible perhaps for everyone to make the length of contribution on the amendment that they would have wished at that time, but we have had that opportunity today.

We are of course fully aware of the strength of feeling in the House about the importance of community pubs. We have made clear our commitment to protecting those pubs that most benefit the community. We recognise that public houses are important assets that play an important role in local communities, making important contributions to the economy and providing local hubs that strengthen community relationships and encourage wider social interaction.

I will shortly come to the changes to the planning system that I announced on the day of the Infrastructure Bill Report stage and specifically to pubs that are listed as assets of community value. However, I want to start, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West did, by reminding the House of the other measures that we have taken in government to support local pubs.

I think that the coalition Government can claim to be the most pub-friendly Government for quite some time. For example, we cut beer duty in the last two Budgets and scrapped the beer and alcohol duty escalators put in place by the Labour party. We have introduced a £250,000 fund for business partners to help to deliver more community-owned pubs and pubs providing community-focused services, which has contributed to a more than doubling of the number of co-operatively owned pubs over the past two years and seen many rural pubs offering a wide range of new community-focused services and facilities. I would like in particular to thank the Plunkett Foundation and Pub is the Hub for working as partners with my Department on those issues.

We have also reduced the bureaucracy that had been hindering landlords from running their pubs, for example through the removal of the licensing rules for small-scale live music venues. We have increased the business rates discount for pubs with rateable values below £50,000 from £1,000 to £1,500 for this year, a move that is estimated to benefit three in every four pubs in the country, and the protections we are giving publicans tied to large pub companies under the new statutory code of practice, to be enforced by an independent adjudicator, will address the imbalance in bargaining power between large pub-owning companies and the thousands of tenants that run tied pubs.

There are already protections for pubs in the planning system. Local plans right across a local authority and neighbourhood plans, which are becoming increasingly popular, should reflect and be consistent with the strong support for pubs in the national planning policy framework —that, I believe, is in paragraph 70 of the document—particularly if that is adopted in the local plan. For instance, last year I visited the Phene pub in Kensington and Chelsea where there has been huge pressure for pubs to be converted into houses, which have incredibly high domestic values. The Phene had been saved from that fate because of the strong planning policies that the council had put in place. Local planning authorities are encouraged to plan positively to support the sustainability of their communities. That includes plans to deliver the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services that the community needs, and to promote strong rural economies through the retention and development of local services and community facilities in villages, such as pubs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) rightly said that national permitted development rights play an important role in the planning system, providing flexibility, reducing bureaucracy and enabling the best use to be made of existing premises. Current permitted development rights allow for the change of use or demolition of pubs without the need for a planning application. That has been the case for quite some time. Some Members may remember that during the progress of the Infrastructure Bill I gave the example of the Ashley Court hotel in my constituency, where the owner wanted to sell it to a property developer and, despite the fact that it was a popular local pub with one of the most magnificent views in the whole of the city, he went ahead and demolished it. That was in 2007, I think. There was nothing I, as the local Member of Parliament, or the two local councillors for Ashley ward at that time could do about it. We all opposed what we felt was going to be the ultimate outcome, but he went ahead with the demolition. There was no provision in the planning law that we could use to stop it. That has been the case for some time. That is what will change as a result of the proposals in the Infrastructure Bill that I outlined.

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification, but I am sceptical about the potential of the orders to stop demolitions. Earlier in the debate, a colleague of his on the Government Benches—the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), I think—suggested that the costs of ACV should be placed on the developers, rather than falling on the local authority. Does the Minister see any merit in that?

I will very shortly come on to the points raised about the process of listing ACVs and any costs that may arise.

It is right that non-viable and underused pubs and other commercial buildings should be able to change use quickly to respond to changing local demands. There are lots of reasons why pubs may close. As I said in the debate on the Infrastructure Bill, there could be demographic reasons, and the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) made exactly the same point today. There could also be reasons of local employment—there may be a factory closure, or the location of a football stadium may move, which happens fairly often. There are lots of reasons why pubs may no longer have their former customer base and patronage. We are saying it would be inappropriate, and, in fact, disproportionate, for the planning system to have blanket protection for every single pub in the country, when there may be perfectly good reasons why a permitted development right is appropriate.

Can we be clear? This is not about giving more protection; it is simply about allowing people the right to have a say over a change of use. Will my hon. Friend accept that the reality of what is going on is that profitable pubs are being closed deliberately as secret deals are done between large pub companies and large supermarket chains? It is nothing to do with pubs that are not viable or not wanted. Can he accept that point, and what is he going to do about it?

I accept what my hon. Friend says about supermarkets, and I assure him I am going to come to that point. The change that he wants and the motion suggests is not modest, however. It is quite a big change to the planning system to give blanket protection to one particular retail use of a piece of land.

Let me depart slightly from my remarks, as I have been provoked. There are probably lots of high street retail uses that different Members around the House might lament the loss of, as shopping areas have changed during our lifetime. I like going to pubs—I have even been to the pub with my hon. Friend several times and hopefully he will buy me a drink again very soon because we have not fallen out too much over this issue—but I am a bibliophile and really enjoy going to bookshops, and I lament the fact that many towns have lost all their bookshops. Even a seat with well-educated constituents such as mine, Bristol West, where there are lots of book- readers has experienced this; the number of bookshops open and trading in Bristol since I went there as a student in 1985 has shrunk markedly in recent years. Is the reason for that because there is not enough protection? The Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), was chair of the Labour club and I was chairman of the SDP-Liberal club at Bristol university at the time, and she will remember that there were lots of bookshops. There are not so many now.

Has that change happened because there is no protection in the planning system for bookshops—or for bakeries, or for other uses people value in the high street and wish were still there? No, it has not. It has happened because customer tastes and purchasing patterns change. We cannot have a planning permission that stands in the way of people changing how they buy things and exercising their commercial choices.

That is not the point we are making. All of us have said pubs that are no longer viable are very different from pubs that are perfectly viable. The Wellington in New Whittington is a heavily used pub, but the company that owns the building can make more money by selling it to a supermarket than by keeping it as a pub. It is still making money, however; it is making plenty of profit.

It is, perhaps, difficult to pick on individual examples without getting into trouble, but one of the bookshops in my constituency closed because a well-known TV personality restaurant-owner paid more for the renewal of the lease than it could afford even though it was trading profitably as a bookshop. Now there is a much-shrunken version of it further down the road. We cannot have a planning system to protect every single piece of economic use of land in towns and cities in that way. We have to reflect the fact that commercial patterns change. That is what our constituents are doing; they are changing the way they buy books, and the way they drink and eat.

In a previous life, when I last had a proper job, I was a director of a publishing company so I know a little bit about bookshops and the book trade. Bookshops have closed for many reasons, in particular the growth of the internet and Amazon, but that is not the same as the conversion of a bespoke building in a neighbourhood, designed for the one purpose of being a pub, despite its being perfectly profitable and there being no evidence that people are buying their alcohol online from Amazon these days. We are talking about a completely different scenario. We are talking about profitable businesses in bespoke premises being taken over for another use.

I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. I am simply saying that the planning system has a column of use classes and different examples of commercial uses, and that it cannot always give protection to every kind of commercial use in that column of use classes. Other factors also come into play.

Will the Minister explain to me in simple terms why protected development rights should apply to launderettes—and all those other categories—and not to public houses?

I am being invited to depart from my prepared remarks again, but that is the nature of debate. I do not know the whole history of the planning system. It has obviously evolved over a long period since the original Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which was passed by the Attlee Government. There may well be anomalies within the system; I am not aware of its full history. The motion gives examples including theatres and launderettes. I do not know how many theatres there are in Easington compared with the number of pubs, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in my constituency of Bristol West there are hundreds of pubs and only two theatres: the Bristol Old Vic, the oldest and longest-running professional theatre in the country, and the Bristol Hippodrome. I am thinking off the top of my head here, but this is probably a matter of proportionality. Theatres are important to the community, and there are likely to be only a few in any given town or city, which might be why they are given that protection.

The same could apply to launderettes, although on the face of it, that might seem odd. There are far fewer launderettes in my constituency than there are pubs, and every time someone tries to close one, the local residents use the planning protections to fight the closure. Launderettes are obviously important, particularly for people who live in flats or houses of multiple occupancy. They are also important in city centres and university towns, where not everyone has the facility to wash their clothes at home. I think that that is why there is a distinction for launderettes, and I would not put the hundreds of pubs in any given location into that same category.

Local planning authorities can currently protect pubs by making an article 4 direction, which has the effect of removing national permitted development rights, and they can use that power where it is necessary to protect the amenity or well-being of an area. Once a direction takes force, a planning application must be made before any development can take place. Article 4 directions can be targeted at individual pubs or applied over a specified geographical area, as appropriate. The shadow Minister had some questions about article 4 usage, but she is no longer in the Chamber. She will be able to read my answers in Hansard, however.

The Secretary of State no longer has the power automatically to block article 4 applications, but he does have the power to ensure that they are not being applied completely disproportionately—right across a local authority area, for example. They are meant to be targeted. More than 130 local planning authorities currently have article 4 directions in place, 26 of which apply specifically to pubs. They include pubs in the London boroughs of Wandsworth, Camden, and Kensington and Chelsea, as well as in Bristol and Cambridge. So the powers are being used, but not as extensively as CAMRA would like. That is one reason that we considered bringing forward the change that was announced on the day of the Infrastructure Bill’s Report stage.

The listing of assets of community value under the Localism Act gives local people a greater stake in the future of assets listed and triggers a moratorium on any sale, enabling local people to develop a bid to buy the asset and ensure its continued contribution to their community. We welcome the fact that a third of the 1,800 assets across the country that have been listed so far—around 600—have been pubs. This has been by far the most popular use of the right, which has been in place for the past couple of years—not four years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West said. Those pubs include the Greenbank pub in Easton, in my constituency. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West has recently been involved in getting Lamplighters pub in her constituency reopened, and I should like to extend an invite to her. She and I should go to The Lamplighters to celebrate her engagement —maybe this weekend. I will buy the drinks for me and her, and for John, and we will find the necessary 21 people who want to list the pub as an asset of community value so that we can get it protected. Let us see if our diaries work.

I fully understand the widespread concern that pubs that are valued by communities could still be lost because of the regulatory environment of the planning system. That is why, on 26 January, we announced our intention to disapply the permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of any pub that is listed as an asset of community value. I hope that that addresses the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) about the King Canute on Canvey Island.

Pubs are not just useful to local communities as gathering places; they can also be significant landmarks along the high street. That is certainly true of the Ashley Court hotel in my constituency, which I mentioned earlier. It did not quite come up to scratch in terms of architectural merit, which is often the problem in big cities that have lots of listed buildings, but it was nevertheless an important landmark and now it has gone. However, demolition will now come within the scope of the changes that we are making.

The measure will be effective for a five-year period from the date of disapplication of the permitted development rights. That will affect the loophole to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West referred. Under the present listing rules, if a sale takes place, the clock starts again on the listing. We have already foreseen that loophole, and I am grateful to CAMRA for discussing it with me. We are therefore proposing that the protection should be in place for five years from the date of the disapplication. That will mean that, for those pubs, a planning application must be made to a local planning authority before a change of use or demolition of the pub can take place. That will give the decision back to the council representing the local community—giving people a say, as has been suggested several times—and provide an opportunity for local people to express their views and offer any counter proposals.

I want to deal with some of the other points raised in the debate. The process for listing assets of community value has been described as bureaucratic and costly. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire said that communities might not have the ability to deal with such a process. I understand that these rights are quite new and that there is still some knowledge to be gained about how they should be applied. That is why other Ministers and I, along with representatives of the partner groups we are working with in the Localism Alliance, are going round the country explaining how these community rights work. We know that there is still some awareness to be raised, however. The process for listing assets of community value is actually very straightforward. The requirement is simply to find 21 people who support the listing of a building or piece of land as an asset of community value and to submit an application to the council. There is absolutely no cost to that group of 21 or more people; the cost to them is zero.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—who has had to leave the debate early to attend another engagement—asked whether we will review the changes after 12 months. They are linked to the Localism Act rights that we have introduced, and we have already committed to conducting a formal review of how that Act is being applied, later in 2015. We have already been gathering evidence informally, including from CAMRA, on how the rights are being used, and that review will certainly happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West asked how to publicise the rights, and that is particularly important now that the listing of an asset of community value will have even more teeth than before. I suggest that, as constituency MPs, we will all want to publicise all sorts of things over the next few months, so we now have a real opportunity to go out into our communities and raise awareness of these issues. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West mentioned his occasional use of the pubs in Otley. I follow him on Twitter and from what I read I think he is much more than an occasional user. We should go out into our communities and publicise these changes. CAMRA, which has been working with the Department as a valued partner for quite some time now—since the Localism Act rights came into place—has published its own “how to” guide on listing assets of community value. I am sure CAMRA will update it to take into account the new teeth this new right will have.

I have dealt with the cost of listing, but my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West and the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) also mentioned the cost to authorities of listing assets. I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend say that Leeds city council says it takes 16 hours of officer time to deal with each application—I believe that is what he said, but he will correct me if I am wrong. No doubt my officials back in Marsham street will have picked up on that and will check whether it is the case. The procedure is quite straightforward in the legislation. We are aware, and some of the evidence we have been gathering from partners shows, that some local authorities are gold-plating what they need to do under the regulations. I do not suggest that Leeds city council is necessarily doing that, but we are aware that it is happening in some places. The procedure, as laid down in the Localism Act, is straightforward for listing an asset of community value. It is very simple for the promoters of that listing and it ought to be similarly simple for the local authority to consider whether the proposal meets the tests, as set out in the legislation.

My hon. Friend and others referred to the practices of pub property companies and others who deliberately promote the closure of local pubs in their area. I was made aware this morning of a report in the Evesham Journal about NewRiver Retail writing to 11 of its owned pubs in the Dudley area, which it seems to want to convert into Co-ops, and suggesting that the pub managers, for an incentive—I put it no strongly than that—should not seek to obstruct what it is doing. Planning law cannot stop all those sorts of commercial practices, but if any of the pubs in Dudley or elsewhere are important to the local community, people should get out there right now and list them, in order to give protection.

We believe the measure we have proposed strikes the right balance between protecting valued community pubs and avoiding the blanket regulation that could lead to more empty buildings around the country. We intend to introduce the required changes to secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity, and we will lay the regulations before the end of this Parliament. The Government have in place common commencement rules for changing business regulations on 6 April and, I believe, 6 October each year. We intend that these regulations will come into place on 6 April 2015—that deals with a key question Members asked—and we will lay the statutory instrument necessary for that in good time to make sure it happens.

I invite all hon. Members to join me in urging local communities to come together to support their local pub, use the community rights we have given them and nominate their local pub as an asset of community value. As I said, 600 pubs have been nominated so far. That is a good start, and if we all get behind this, working with CAMRA and local amenity groups, that number can expand significantly in a short time. If people think their local pub plays a key social and economic role in their community, they should act decisively and act now. They should not be reactive. I think someone spoke earlier about these changes and people being reactive. People should be proactive. I have been saying that, as other Ministers have, for the past 18 months or so. People should not wait for a threat. The right is there now, so please use it. If people think any community asset is important, they should list it now—they should not wait for a threat to come along.

The change we are making has been described as “modest”, but giving planning protection to pubs that are listed as an ACV is a significant change. The Government can fairly say that, without doubt, the future of local pubs will now lie in the hands of local people.

I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. I will return to the Minister’s comments, but first I wish to thank him for his congratulations on my engagement. I will be delighted to take up his offer of a pint in The Lamplighters. As he knows, he can get there from his constituency via the Severn Beach line, which may one day be a Henbury loop—who knows?

It was a terrible abuse of local knowledge, and I apologise to my hon. Friend for taking up his time in that way.

We heard some fantastic speeches today. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) summarised excellently the value of pubs beyond the immediately obvious, talking about their community value and all the other activities that take place in them, which include knitting, crèches, children’s tots groups and coffee mornings; some £120 million is also raised for charities each year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) powerfully illustrated the real-world consequences of the current situation, providing exactly the gritty detail that I hope will keep this issue in the Government’s mind through 2015 and beyond. The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) also touched on the enormous amount of work that I know he has done on the statutory code for pubcos, which has until recently been a pretty grim backdrop to the pub situation. I am pleased that the Government have moved on that, largely thanks to his efforts and those of the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland).

The hon. Member for Leeds North West was, as ever, a powerful blast of reality. He illustrated excellently the practical realities of an ACV bid. For some communities it may be easy but for others it is not nearly so easy, depending on discrepancies between local authorities and between the nature of the communities affected by the potential loss of their pub. He also gave news of his Otley Pub Club collective bid. We wish him luck with that and we will be interested to see how he gets on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who gave his apologies for not being able to be in his place now, gave a balanced assessment, using the benefit of his experience and expertise as a superb and first pubs Minister. He made some sensible suggestions and I very much hope we can progress them. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), who is also not able to be in her place now and has courteously given her apologies, made a statement that many of us perhaps agree with, especially given the time. She wished that this debate had not been necessary, and a lot of us would say “Hear, hear” to that.

Let me return to the Minister’s response. As I say, I look forward to discussing this further over a pint in The Lamplighters and perhaps any other pub he wishes to name. Importantly, he reminded us of the significant positive impact the Government have had on pubs, which is possibly easy to forget; in trying to get the best, we should not make an enemy of the good. There is concern that perhaps he had missed the point of the debate, which was not about commercial viability and protecting those things that are not commercially viable, but simply about allowing communities to have their say when there is a change, be it commercially viable or otherwise. His measures to close loopholes on ACV are welcome, as is the pledge that the way ACV is working out—that is separately from aspirations about how it might work out—will be reviewed as part of a formal review of the Localism Act. I am very pleased that we have received assurances that that element will be considered. It is also welcome that we now have a date, 6 April, for the moves that the Government have made to enhance the status of ACV. Most of us in this House would agree that on planning protection of pubs it is, “Time, gentleman and ladies, please. Time.”

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes New Economics Foundation research showing that local economies benefit twice as much from a pound spent in a pub rather than a supermarket; expresses concern that valued and viable pubs are being lost due to permitted development rights which allow pubs to be demolished or turned into supermarkets and other uses without planning permission, denying local people any say; notes that supermarket chains are deliberately targeting pubs and further notes CAMRA research that two pubs a week are converted into supermarkets; supports CAMRA’S Pub Matters campaign calling for an end to permitted development rights on pubs; notes that any change of use to a nightclub, laundrette or theatre requires planning permission, making it odd to refuse pubs the same status; notes plans to remove permitted development rights from pubs listed as Assets of Community Value (ACVs), and calls on the Government to announce how and when this will happen; notes, however, that pubs achieving ACV status is not as simple as Ministers have suggested, with the requirement for local communities to provide boundaries and plans and that every pub must be listed separately making it unrealistic for communities to protect all valued pubs; further notes that each ACV application costs local authorities over a thousand pounds, and listing all valued UK pubs as ACVs would cost millions of pounds and create significant bureaucracy; and therefore calls on the Government to make a simpler change and put pubs into the sui generis category so that communities can comment on a proposal to convert or demolish a pub.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measures:

Stamp Duty Land Tax Act 2015

Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015

Insurance Act 2015

National Insurance Contributions Act 2015

Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015

Infrastructure Act 2015

Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction (Amendment) Measure 2015

Ecclesiastical Property Measure 2015

Church of England (Pensions) (Amendment) Measure 2015.