Should pubs have Permitted Development Rights reinstated?

COVID-19 forced many people to work from home with little warning. Having acclimatised to this new way of work, many of us are now aware that our job roles (often based in towns and cities) can be performed successfully in rural locations away from the office, such as at home and closer to your local! Arguably, such rural locations provide for a better quality of life with regards to affordability, surroundings and no requirement to commute.

Hospitality, particularly pubs, has been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Social distancing guidelines have restricted the capacities of pubs, bars and restaurants, limiting their ability to make revenue and profit. The UK Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls claimed that, on average, hospitality is only able to achieve 70% of their normal revenues where a one metre plus social distancing rule is in place. As such, many pubs, bars and restaurants have closed (or are yet to reopen) because their businesses are no longer economically viable.

Pubs do not have permitted development rights (PDRs). Such rights would allow them to change their use to a shop, restaurant or café; to change to facilitate financial or professional services; to change to a temporary state funded school for a period of up to a year; change to a temporary flexible use; or to be demolished. These PDRs were removed by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No 2) Order 2017. This means that pubs are required to submit an application for planning permission in order to carry out any development or change of use within these use categories.

Whilst this order demonstrates the Government’s perceived importance of pubs, this inflexibility has provided for a further lack of viability for some pubs as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The British Beer and Pub Association has claimed that only ‘between one third and three quarters’ of pubs have been able to reopen as a result of the social distancing rule being reduced to one metre plus and pubs being able to achieve up to 70% revenues.

This has prompted calls to review the status of PDRs legislation with regard to pubs. Some argue that pubs which have had to close, or have been unable to reopen, as restrictions have eased due to a lack of viability (enhanced by the pandemic) should be honoured PDRs as part of a policy package to aid our economy’s recovery. Evidence suggests that the majority of closing pubs are located in rural areas, and here pubs are a greater part of the community. By reallocating PDRs, it would allow empty pubs to be repurposed and used as hubs for rural entrepreneurs and small business owners, providing a safe and cost efficient place to work whilst still maintaining a community hub.

Such policy has the potential to unlock billions of pounds for the economy, which is vital at this stage in the economic cycle where, according to the Office for National Statistics, we sit in a trough at the start of a recession. Therefore it is now the time to reinstate the PDRs of pubs.

Andrew Nicholson is managing partner and head of the Property Team at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Property Solicitors Suffolk – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email