Pubs and planning – from portfolio management to diversification and changes of use

With signs of summer on the way, many of us head straight to the nearest beer garden to enjoy a cold beverage, demonstrating how pubs appear to continue to play a prominent role in British drinking culture. They can be seen as the ‘heart of the community’, particularly in rural areas, contributing to local vitality and viability through job creation and customer spend. The ability to head to ‘the local’ remains an important factor in promoting the attractiveness of an area.

The decline of the pub?

Despite this, it is evident that the nature of ‘The Pub’ is changing. Restrictions on drink-driving, the smoking ban, and cheap supermarket sales of alcohol means that there are easier and cheaper alternatives to the local pub. In addition, the number of drinkers in the UK is falling, especially with rising levels of ‘alcohol free’ millennials, there is an increasing demand for leisure and entertainment opportunities which are not centred around consuming alcohol.

These social and economic shifts have resulted in the need for many pubs to diversify into the food trade, offering lunchtime and evening dining to attract further patrons. Pubs which cannot diversify often fall foul of local competition, particularly where they are in a more isolated location and cannot benefit from passing trade from key transport routes.

The need to diversify

Given these cultural shifts, it is never too early to think about the strategic management of your public house. If a pub is struggling, a first approach may be to try and make it more attractive, for example exploring the scope for things such as:

  • letting rooms;
  • providing a beer garden or play facilities;
  • or diversifying into the food sector.

There is also the option of enabling development to be explored. A prime example of this diversification in action can be seen in a pub redevelopment scheme near Temple Cloud. With this project we secured planning permission for a mixed-use scheme, comprising letting rooms and residential development in association with the public house.  The overarching aim was to generate additional income to allow for the retention and refurbishment of the pub which would have been otherwise unviable in isolation.

Marketing and viability requirements for pub changes of use

Attempts to make a pub more attractive demonstrate that every effort has been made to invest in the asset to allow it to operate profitably. If these options have been exhausted, the costs of refurbishment are unviable or there is no logical space/capability to diversify, options for alternative uses or development may be explored.

As pubs are seen as important economic and community assets they are often protected in planning policy and therefore before you seek to change the use of the pub and/ or redevelop the site, you need to be able to demonstrate robust marketing evidence to show that the asset is no longer viable. Minimum timescales apply but obviously the more evidence you can provide the better. Marketing evidence should be supported with a viability report to demonstrate the financial challenges of the pub.

You can see the use of this type of evidence in practice with a change of use we secured for a pub in Chelmsford. Through careful review of marketing evidence and local competition, engagement with the local community and detailed context analysis, we were able to obtain planning permission to convert an unviable Grade II listed pub into a new family dwelling, which gave a new lease of life to a beautiful building.

Community objection to loss of a pub

Any application for the loss of a pub can be an emotive topic for local residents. Even if the landlord has been struggling with limited or no regular customers, community support groups can emerge.

We often find proactive engagement with residents and maintaining clear lines of communication from the outset is key. This may present ideas for diversification that had not previously been considered. If closure is the only option, then with a robust and evidence-based application, often the facts speak for themselves.

If the proposed closure proves too emotive and planning is refused on grounds which aren’t reasonable, an appeal may be justified. In all these cases we can provide guidance on next steps and support you through the appropriate planning strategy.

How we can help

Plainview Planning help both individual landlords and larger public house portfolios. We provide strategic asset management services and full planning support, be it seeking planning permission to diversify your operations, through to pub closure and redevelopment of the site if all other avenues have been exhausted. We always seek to engage positively and proactively with all parties, to ensure a positive resolution.

Please get in touch if you wish to discuss your individual requirements further and see how we can best help you via or alternatively submit your site via our Landmark Form.

We value your privacy and any information which you provide will not be shared outside of our company and will only be used in relation to your enquiry.

IMAGE SOURCE: Unsplash 2019