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Last orders: pubs could stay closed until Christmas

30 April 2020

It becomes even more important to allow pubs and restaurants to trade flexibly, the takeaway and delivery regime that has been brought in as a temporary measure should be reviewed and considered as a permanent deregulation. If we want our pubs to survive, we need to consider all ways of supporting their business.

The Sun headline from last week shows how pubs are such an important part of British culture, and the newspapers have been full of speculation about when and how the lock down will end for the hospitality sector.  In the meantime, how can the planning system help? 

As we have previously reported, the government has relaxed the rules on allowing restaurants and pubs to have takeaway and delivery services until March 2021, but many pubs have substantial overheads that will make it very difficult to trade under those circumstances. Some enterprising operators are doing cocktail deliveries, the Quarentini being a firm favourite, but that initiative will not really help the majority of traditional community pubs. We understand that alongside the planning relaxation, Councils are allowing variations of licences to allow for ‘off sales’ to support this initiative, but this is really only a sticking plaster. We need to consider the wider and longer-term issues.

The industry’s #RaiseTheBar campaign is seeking government support for the hospitality sector by lobbying for a change in the threshold for grants for a pub or restaurant with a rateable value of £51,000 to £150,000. In London alone, there are 19,000 leisure businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000 who are not eligible for government support. The change would assist 13,000 businesses.

Upon reopening, the ability of a pub to have a beer garden or a terrace is likely to become even more critical to their trade. This is not only to support their income, but also to aid social distancing. It is quite difficult to imagine pubs reopening with social distancing rules, which would not only ‘kill the vibe’, but would limit capacity to such a degree that it would probably not be viable to reopen; a beer garden could change that.

Sadly, if the ‘calendar year’ expectation for social distancing proves correct, and the Sun’s headline is accurate, there is a very real risk of the permanent closure of many pubs and owners may need to look at a conversion or redevelopment for housing. How will the planning system view whether a pub is viable after coronavirus? Marketing a vacant pub for 12 months would seem ludicrous in that situation. Is the lockdown going to reverse the recent uptick in pub and bar numbers that we have experienced in the last few years?

Source: ONS, House of Commons Library

Source: ONS/House of Commons Library

It becomes even more important to allow pubs and restaurants to trade flexibly, the takeaway and delivery regime that has been brought in as a temporary measure should be reviewed and considered as a permanent deregulation. If we want our pubs to survive, we need to consider all ways of supporting their business.

Many older pubs do not have specific planning conditions that limit their opening hours or the use of their outside space, this is simply controlled by licensing. Planning Potential can check whether you can use your outside space for a beer garden or terrace without the need to apply for planning. Likewise, we can check if you need permission for extended opening hours, or changing the function of upper floors.

With so much uncertainty on the horizon, now is the time to consider all options and more importantly adopt a flexible approach.