As an enthusiastic support of the city’s fine pubs, I am delighted to see that Gloucester City Council is taking their preservation seriously.
Last week they produced an ‘Interim Policy Statement on Public Houses’ to address concerns about the potential loss of pubs in the city. The draft is open for public consultation until 3 February.
This is a very welcome move by the council.
Back in September I blogged on the issue when I first got word that the council were considering some kind of policy. At that time I discussed the common argument about whether pubs should be protected or whether their fate should be left to market forces like any other business.
But pubs aren’t like any other business: they are in important part of the fabric of British society, and this is what the policy statement recognises. It acknowledges that many of Gloucester’s historic pubs play an important role in the character and appearance of the city. It considers the importance of pubs as a community asset, their economic benefits in providing jobs for local people, and their historic and architectural merits.
The policy proposes that planning permission for the redevelopment or change of use of a pub will only be permitted where it can be clearly demonstrated that it is not viable and all reasonable measures have been taken to sell it on as a going concern. It also seeks to preserve the character of the pub and the street scene in the case of any re-development, and if it is to close there must be another pub nearby or another community facility must be provided on the site.
This all sounds extremely sensible and thinking back over some of the much-loved pubs that we have lost over recent years I think that this policy could have gone a long way to helping.
As is usually the case, however, the devil will be in the detail.
It is depressingly easy for a pub owner to ensure a pub’s failure through poor management, so it is good that the policy stipulates that the council will seek evidence to determine the viability of the pub, such as CAMRA’s Public House Viability Test. Often, with the right management and business plan, even the worst pubs can be turned around. I would hold up the Pelican as a prime example of that.
The stipulation that any proposed development “would not have a detrimental effect on the design, character and heritage of the existing public house and/or the wider street scene” is interesting as I can’t see how you could convert a pub to anything else whilst abiding by it.
It is hard to preserve the character of a pub when you turn it into apartments or a soulless, garishly lit supermarket – the fate of the Welsh Harp and The India House, for example. However, if merely retaining the façade will meet the requirement then maybe that is less reassuring.
Finally I am interested in the stipulation that there must be “an alternative public house within walking distance.”
This is an excellent stipulation to prevent communities being hollowed out through the loss of their pub. You only have to look at Barton Street, once thriving with pubs, to see what can happen. However, it depends how far you reasonably expect people to walk: it may be considered that the walk from the Great Western or the Plough to One Eyed Jacks, for example, is perfectly acceptable.
So clearly the policy will need to be tested in reality to see how well it stands up, but the fact that the council are pushing for it is a great sign and something that anyone who cares about our pubs should welcome and support.
To find out more, go to the Gloucester City Council website here and respond to the consultation by completing the online questionnaire.
<shameless plug> To find out more about the pubs that we have lost in Gloucester, as well as those that are still alive and thriving, why not get a copy of The Story of Gloucester Pubs – available in good book stores, Gloucester Tourist Information Office or here <end of shameless plug>