Pub Conversions – Practical Application

The number of pubs in the UK has declined year on year, at least since 1982. Various reasons are put forward for this, such as the failure of some establishments to keep up with customer requirements. Others claim the smoking ban of 2007, intense competition from gastro-pubs, the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets or the general economic climate are either to blame, or are factors in the decline. Changes in demographics may be an additional factor.

In 2015 the rate of pub closures came under the scrutiny of Parliament in the UK, with a promise of legislation to improve relations between owners and tenants. The Lost Pubs Project listed 31,301 closed English pubs on 19 July 2016, with photographs of over 16,000.

In the fifteen years to 2017 a quarter of London’s pubs had closed. The closures have been ascribed to factors such as changing tastes and the rise in the cost of beer due to applied taxes.

Public houses make fantastic conversion projects. Normally you have a substantial building on the site with large garden and car park. Large country pubs are even larger and are set within quaint villages in rolling open countryside. They are, in the main, a developers dream site as they meet many of the exempt-able criteria for development in the countryside in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Pub’s are however protected entities in the eyes of National Planning Policy. Para 92(a) of the NPPF states:

  1. To provide the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services the community needs, planning policies and decisions should:

  1. a) plan positively for the provision and use of shared spaces, community facilities (such as local shops, meeting places, sports venues, open space, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship) and other local services to enhance the sustainability of communities and residential environments.

Unfortunately there are no permitted development allowances that assist here. Class A, Pt 3 Sch 2 of the General Permitted Development Order) no longer allows the change of use of a Public House (thanks CAMRA) to a shop or an estate agent so you have to apply for planning permission in order to change the use of such a building to dwellings.

Happily there is some consistency in how most councils deal with this.

In the main you need one of two things to be true in order to proceed with a pub conversion:

  1. The building has been vacant for at least 5 years and is on the Council’s brownfield register
  2. The building is not identified as an asset of community value
  3. The building has been marketed as a public house for at least 12 months and has not sold.
  4. The public house is listed and the benefits of retaining and enhancing the building in a new use out weights the loss of the community use.  

In these circumstances most policies will allow a public house to be converted subject to the normal planning criteria.

If none of these are true then what options do you have?

Public houses often come with excessive lands which they no longer want or need. They are often also equipped with car parks that they do not need anymore as (to be honest) it is no longer socially acceptable or legal to drink and drive.

Looking at most car parking standards this is reflected when a Class A4 public houses car parking standard is missing or very low.

The lands around pubs are available for development especially within towns where the presumption of development is set and the desire for new homes is quite high. Hence you can hold the pub for the required marketing period and then pursue houses on the surrounding lands.

What if you don’t want to apply at all?

Within the definition of public house also exists ‘coaching inn’. These entities are public houses with hotel accommodation built in. Think of a serviced accommodation use but with a public house attached to it.

Whilst you would need to actually run the pub you could also use the sleeping accommodation within the serviced model and not require planning permission at all. No change of use = no planning permission required!