A number of constituents have contacted me about possible closure of the Maiden Over pub. I have been talking to councillors about what can be done in this situation:
“I have taken an interest in the closure of pubs and the decline of the pub trade along with other MPs. Part of the problem is a change in drinking habits. Many more people now wish to drink at home or with friends, buying alcohol from supermarkets to do this. This has led to a long term decline in alcoholic beverage sales on licensed premises.
The government has responded to worries expressed by some publicans in tied houses about the terms of their contracts and the behaviour of the owning companies that lease the premises to them, as some have claimed the terms or enforcement of their leases impedes running a profitable business.
As a result the government has decided to set up a Statutory Code of Conduct regulating the tied trade, with an Adjudicator to deal with disputes between publicans and pub owners. This was announced following consultation on 3 June 2014, and the necessary clauses included in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (Section 4) presented to the House on June 25th. This does not of course help with disputes between landlords and pub owners prior to the new law, which will continue to be covered by the existing laws of contract and fair trading.
The more relevant national legislation for the Maiden Over case is the 1995 Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order 1995. The then Conservative government wished to increase the flexibility for High Streets and other locations for people to switch a property from one use to another. The idea behind the Order is you can switch uses within one of the General Uses classes in the Order without needing a fresh planning permission.
Class A includes both pubs and shops, so it is usually possible to convert a pub into a shop or restaurant without needing planning permission. This is a generally desirable freedom, especially given the decline of some High Streets and the need for innovation to keep them alive. However, we recognised at the time that issues like pub closures could create special hard cases. We therefore included in the Order the provision allowing a Council to make an Article 4 Direction where there is a need to “protect local amenity or the wellbeing of an area”. Labour left this legislation unamended during its period in office.
On 7 January 2013 when the issue of pub closures was raised in the Commons Mr Boles as Planning Minister said that Article 4 Directions could be used by Councils to require a planning application and a Council decision where someone wants to convert a pub to a shop. He also drew attention to the fact that the pub needs to be a potentially viable business.
I am happy with the cross party decision to leave these local matters to the local Council Planning Authority. CAMRA have run campaigns around the country to save particular pubs and to invoke Article 4. Wokingham Council should examine the position of the Maiden Over carefully.
If they conclude someone could run a profitable pub business there because there is enough potential trade, and conclude that the pub is an important part of the local amenity, then they can use Article 4 if they wish. It is always wise for a public body to consult its lawyers when thinking of doing so. My email is by way of general guidance but I am not a qualified lawyer offering legal advice.”