How To Save Your Local Pub : 1 January 1986

Why is it that so many country pubs are closing nowadays, when drink drive laws are so rigidly enforced, and people would so obviously be better off drinking near home?

There will be many reasons - not least the fact that landlords can make more money out of selling their pub as a house than as a business. So, at a time when small businesses are being so ruthlessly squeezed, how can a village community make sure the heart of the village survives?

No pub can be converted into a house without planning permission. So, when the planning application is made, the Parish Council has a chance to object, set up an action committee and organise the opposiition.

Most District Councils have planning policies designed to protect local facilities. These usually require the applicant to prove that the pub, or other local facility, is not viable, before they will allow a conversion to residential use. The essential point is that the pub must be shown not to be viable as a business - the fact that the pub might be worht far more as a house is not relevant to this issue.

In some cases the pub may require extensive repair or refurbishment. If so, and there is a plot of land available on the site, it can be argued that part of the profit on the sale of the plot could be used to fund the repairs.

The owner may engage a highly skilled consultant to produce a written submission to the council. If so, the Parish Council can demand a copy and exercise their right to reply: the consultant's submission should be scrutinised with the utmost care and thoroughness, and a comprehensive written refutation prepared to ensure that District Councillors on the Planning Committee are made fully aware of all counter arguments. The Parish Council should actively sollicit the support of local politicians of every political persuasion.

If these steps are taken, the planning application will probably fail, but it is still possible for the owner to appeal to the Secretary of State. He may try to prove that the property has been on the market for several months, and there has been little or no interest in buying it as a pub.If so, the objectors can check the suitability of the selling agent: believe it or not, there are agents who specialise nationally in the sale of pubs. So, if the local agent says he can't sell the pub, the objectors should insist that the sale is referred to one of these.

Great Habton was very lucky to have a parish council chairman, who has worked for breweries for many years, and understands the licensed retailing trade. Keith Richardson was able to do a lot of hard work behind the scenes liaising with the council and prospective buyers.

So, was the fight worth it? We now have our village pub back again. It is still the heart of the community. The cricket club can use it after matches again. It's available for local darts competitions. It's available for meetings and is somewhere to go after meetings. The Grapes is already very well used once more - particularly the restaurant at weekends. We have a landlord who specialises in exotic fish dishes - he has a wonderful recipe for lobster thermidor. His reputation has spread, and, after being open for just over a month, you have to book well in advance for weekend meals. He also provides bar snacks at lunchtimes and evenings. His suppliers are local, and he buys local produce. He employs local bar staff.

Great Habton is only a small village. Our success at beating the national trend should encourage even the smallest villages all over North Yorkshire.

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