Have Your Say on Gloucester Council’s Interim Pub Policy

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>

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About Darrel Kirby

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4 Responses to Have Your Say on Gloucester Council’s Interim Pub Policy

  1. Michael Hall says:

    It might be worth noting that most of the pubs struggling and closing nationally are those owned by the pubcos; punch, enterprise and admiral. The nature of the operation of these pubcos ensures a high turnover of publicans and this can make it harder for newcomers to attract a long term loyal trade. Even with excellent operators pubco pubs often struggle to meet the high overheads forced on them by their owners, it really only takes a year of poor trading for whatever reasons and the pubco can sell. They prefer to sell their pubs for development to avoid further competition to their other pubs in the area. These are the pubs most likely to be lost unlike privately owned pubs or those owned by local breweries. The protection of pubs should begin with those owned by pubcos, they do not care about the pubs only in making money to pay back their billion pound debts. The elephant in the room is that less historic pubs would be lost if wetherspoons weren’t opening cinemas and post offices into huge open planned pubs with cheap beer.

    • Darrel Kirby says:

      All good points Michael. Of course there is a bill going through at the moment to take power away from the PubCos, which sounds good, but may result in even more closures. No easy solutions I fear.

  2. Mark Trotman says:

    My unending hope is that, one day, supermarkets, garages and even motorway service stations are stopped from selling alcohol. i, and others, suggest that we should get back to selling booze from traditional sources, the pub and ‘offies’.

    On a more serious note, one thing that came to mind during the reading of the plan was how much of a swathe of Gloucester was left without a ‘local’ once The Walnut Tree was closed. I’m guessing that the nearest pubs for Coney Hill residents, these days, would be The Turmet Hoer, One Eyed Jacks, The Robinswood, The Victory or The Royal Oak. Any one of those would be a huge stagger.

    • Darrel Kirby says:

      It is very true that supermarkets put the pubs at a distinct disadvantage. They also probably contribute far more to the ‘binge drinking culture’ that pubs get the blame for.

      It is always places like Coney Hill that seem to suffer most from pub closures as councils seek to get rid of ‘trouble pubs’ or developers seek to build more houses. In the old days before council estates, working class areas would have had dozens of pubs.

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