This summer has seen a spate of local pubs calling last orders for the final time. The Windsor Castle on Crawford Place was a unique establishment and will be missed by many local regulars and visitors alike. However, finding an alternative will not be easy.
- The Duke of York (Harrowby Street) and the Victory (Brendon Street) have both also just shut.
- Lord Wargrave (Crawford Place) we hear rumours is also set to close.
- The area lost the Beehive (Homer Street) in 2014 and last year.
- The Harcourt Arms (Harcourt Street) became the Harcourt Restaurant.
- If you head east you will still be thirsty as the Duke of Wellington (Crawford Street) closed this summer.
- The Tudor Rose (Blandford Street) also shut as a pub and currently has a live planning application to alter the exterior of the premises to become a wine bar.
- We also lost the Pontefract Castle (Wigmore Street) and the Apollo (Paddington Street) in the last couple of years for redevelopment.
- Beehive (Crawford Street) had a fire and is still derelict.
- The George (Great Portland Street) has also pulled its last pint.
- The historical Dover Castle (Weymouth Mews) is also set to close in September.
The trend is nothing new: the Black Horse (Marylebone High Street) became The Providores restaurant years ago and All Bar One (Paddington Street) is now Carluccio's to name just two. Though, what is concerning is the current pace of these recent closures. Once a public house closes it rarely reopens as a traditional pub.
If you live near one of these premises you might be welcoming a bit more peace and quiet, but that maybe short lived. If you have lost your favourite local then you may wonder which pub is next to close and whether anything can be done about it. Underlying each closure is a combination of factors; from shift in drinking habits to high alterative use property values. The good news is that Westminster City Council is supportive and prepared to play their part in trying to keep pubs open. The recent public enquiries into the Swan and Edgar (aka The Feathers) on Linhope Street and the Carlton Tavern (Cartlon Vale, North Westminster) are testament to their commitment. In both instances the Council has spent considerable sums trying to prevent the loss of public houses and in the later forcing the owner to rebuild it brick by brick!
I recently attended a meeting arranged by local residents Tony and Wendy Frazer-Price with Cllr. Richard Beddoe and Cllr. Julia Alexander to discuss the issues. Cllr. Julia Alexander writes.
A. The Windsor Castle pub – a favourite and characterful local in Crawford Street W1 – shut up shop on 16 August 2016, although it was a successful business with an enthusiastic customer base. Its lease was up; the owner had decided not to renew it. No public authority could have ruled – at any point - that the pub must continue trading. The pub’s curios and memorabilia were chattels belonging to the business, regardless of community-interest. They have already gone elsewhere. The owner’s declared plan, to open the premises as a restaurant, will not need Planning Permission.
There are two bits of planning legislation that are important here. The first is called the ‘Use Classes Order’. This groups similar uses of premises in what are called “use classes”: shopping-area-uses in one group, residential ones in another and so on. Shopping-area-uses are gathered in Class A: pubs in Class A4, shops in A1, financial services in Class A2 and restaurants in Class A3.
The second important set of regulations is called the ‘General Permitted Development Order’. This defines types of development that do not need Planning Permission and covers many changes between different classes of use. Under this, pubs (A4) can change to shops (A1), financial services (A2) and restaurants (A3) without the need for a Planning Application. This means that the council has few planning powers to prevent a pub being converted into a restaurant, a shop or an estate agency, (though there are Licensing / Planning constraints on reversing the process). There are no Permitted Development Rights allowing change of use from a pub to a dwelling-house. Changes from Class A Uses to Residential use always require Planning Permission.
B. Assets of Community Value (These two paragraphs supplied by Westminster Council’s Planning Officers)
‘Permitted Development rules have been tightened up to take account of the introduction of Assets of Community Value (ACVs). The General Permitted Development Order requires anyone proposing a Permitted Development affecting a pub to make a written request to the Council, to find out whether the building has been nominated as an asset of community value; the development must not then start for 56 days from the date of that request. Where a pub has been nominated as an ACV, but not yet designated, Permitted Development rights do not apply while the decision is made. If the pub is designated, Permitted Development Rights are lifted for a five-year period from the date that the building was entered onto the list of Assets of Community Value (unless it is removed from the list earlier). This means that any change of use that would otherwise have been ‘permitted’ will require a Planning Application that will give the council greater ability to consider the case.
‘Designation as an Asset of Community Value operates by introducing a moratorium on the sale of the site for 6 months. During this period the community-group which designated the property have an opportunity to raise funds and develop a business-plan for the purchase of the property, and they can make a bid for purchase during this period. The landowner is not obliged to accept their bid. Once the 6-month period ends, if the property has not been sold to the community group, the landowner can sell the property according to the normal processes.’
Guidance on this process is at Community Rights. (Please note that an ACV bid must come from the community, and requires a fair amount of group-determination, including a willingness to give time and incur some costs.) Designation as an ACV not only gives the council greater leverage through the planning system; if the owners decide to sell the pub, the 6-month moratorium gives the local community the chance to find an owner and landlord willing to take the pub on and run it as a business. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is known to provide pro-active support. [Please see also Community Assets]
One of the major reasons for bringing in the ACV legislation was to save rural pubs, in places where property values are a fraction of those in Central London, and where – generally speaking – the landlord lives over the licensed premises. Pubs are being bought over speculatively in Central London as a result of the differential between the buildings’ real-estate values, and the rental-values typical within the licensing trade. Consider, for example, the real-estate value of a fine Georgian building, on the corner of Crawford Street and Upper Montagu Street. As a 3-storey town-house with basement, this property is worth millions. Divided into flats, you can guess at its likely rental yield. By comparison, the rental value of a licensed premises – anywhere in England - is calculated as 50% of the annual profits. That’s the customary formula.
Let us suppose that this formerly very busy, much loved local pub in Crawford Street – now mothballed - turned an annual profit of around £110,000. That would indicate a rental value around £55,000. Even if the pub generated double that profit, no Central London pub-business can generate the same sort of revenue as if the premises were let as residential property. Anyone willing to buy the pub from the present owners, and run it as a licensed premises, would perhaps be doing it as a ‘lifestyle’ choice, but he /she would need an awful lot of resting capital to invest in the freehold of the property. Let’s be clear, finding a suitable buyer and tenant to keep one of these pubs open is not a clear run. Dale Ingram specialist historic buildings and planning consultant who advises on such matters is in my view, an unbeatable class act having seen her in action during the Linhope Street pub Public Inquiry, so any group thinking of going for an ACV bid on any of our local pubs would do well to consult Ms Ingram first.
C. Planning Applications received to date:
The Windsor Castle: In June this year, the Council’s Planning Department received and turned down an application to erect a roof-extension, and to convert the first, second and (proposed, new) third floors to residential flats. Planning permission for the roof-extension was refused on grounds of design and conservation concerns. The owner is entitled to revise his proposal and reapply.
The Duke of Wellington: no application for Planning permission has yet been received. The pub remains as it was on the day it closed, with the bar and pub-furnishings intact.
D. Article Four Directions
There has been a lot of publicity lately about Wandsworth Council’s application for an Article Four Direction to restrict Permitted Development so as to protect the 120 pubs within their borough. A Local Authority may seek an Article Four Direction, allowing it to control works that would otherwise be counted as ‘Permitted Development’ by requiring the submission of a Planning Application. This allows Councillors to take account of the range of planning policies involved, such as the character or heritage of an area of local importance such as a conservation area, and the impact on the vitality of a centre. An Article Four Direction can also be used to require Planning Permission for the demolition of non-designated heritage assets, which could apply – for example - to community pubs outside conservation areas. Article Four Directions are often used to regulate ‘Permitted Development’ rights that might be detrimental to the neighbourhood. For example, Westminster City Council has recently made such a Direction to regulate the construction of basements. Under the legislation many of these are ‘permitted development’, but basements are now regulated in Westminster, allowing us to take account of the impact on neighbouring properties, noise, hydrology and sub-structure stability.
In considering Article Four protection for our pubs, we must recognise that the market has changed. Since the millennium, we have all been part of the trend for pubs to become places to eat: that gradual shift from so-called ‘vertical drinking’ towards customers sitting at a table and eating (as, for example, in new-style tapas bars and pizzerias). Many of us have welcomed that, on account of its contribution to a reduction in public-order offences. Alongside this process, classic pubs have seen their revenues decline, both in absolute terms, and in comparison with similar premises.
Our Deputy Leader, Councillor Robert Davis, has already written to all Councillors, saying that he will be looking into the possibilities of an Article Four Direction for all pubs in Westminster. It may well be that we’ve reached a point where this is both desirable and necessary; but last orders will already have been called at many of our favourite pubs before any Article Four Direction comes into force. An Article Four Direction – if it were approved – would take the best part of a year to get through the legal process.
Your local Councillors are keen to push for an Article Four Direction to protect our few surviving pubs, but we are realistic about how many old-fashioned local pubs will prove to be viable over time. Those of us who like to drop in at our local now and then may well need to walk a bit further and drop in more often, if we are to preserve these institutions of our local community.
Julia Alexander (Councillor),
Member for Bryanston and Dorset Square,
Westminster City Council