More pubs please

A property developer recently told me it has become ever harder to include a pub or bar in plans when regenerating and redesigning certain areas.

According to the latest edition of the Market Growth Monitor, licensed premises in Britain are closing at almost double the rate they were three months ago. The report showed Britain has 3,116 fewer restaurants, pubs, bars and other licensed premises than a year ago. If this continues, where will Brits hold their work events, birthday bashes and first dates? Even in the age of Tinder, a quarter of British couples claim to have first met in the pub.

Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay claims from a “demand point of view” there is a lot of housebuilding in the UK – creating new towns and suburbs – while the demand is “only going to get bigger”.

Should developers include on-trade outlets in their master plans or should residential properties be converted into pubs as demand arises? If the latter, does the planning process need to make it easier to convert residential properties?

The demise of the pub in many modern developments is part of a wider omission of “third places” – sites that provide an alternative to the home or workplace where people can meet and socialise. Harking back to the time when the pub was the centre of the community, it was our third place where you met people and relaxed. In meeting such a demand for new housing are we losing our third place? Is a lack of well-placed pubs in regenerated areas another reason people remain at home?

Good-quality design is an integral part of sustainable development. The National Planning Policy Framework recognises design quality matters and planning should drive up standards across all forms of development. As a core planning principle, plan-makers and decision-takers should always seek to secure high-quality design. Achieving good design is about creating places, buildings or spaces that work well for everyone, look good, last well and are adaptable to the needs of future generations. In my mind that includes ensuring easy access to quality on-trade establishments.

Does good design include a pub or do we need to redefine what the pub is to us in 2018? The pub is no longer about drinking beer in a male-dominated village venue, it has become somewhere we can treat our parents to dinner, meet our friends for a coffee and take our children for lunch. Do town planners need to think about how we cater for everyone in the community in this way? How do we provide a third place for the culture of 2018 without losing the essence of the “local”?

Most planning permission these days is granted for “mixed-use developments”, with separate levels for retail, commercial and residential. These buildings are significantly easier to obtain planning consent for. Tesco has made a point of trying to snap up the bottom floor of these developments, a smart move. Meanwhile, a lot of these developments have struggled to gain permission for bars and pubs because of residents’ objections.

However, there clearly remains a place for pubs that serve the community – and thank goodness for that. The Campaign for Real Ale, the Victorian Society and Historic England have managed to save numerous examples from demolition, as have local initiatives such as the Old Crown in Cumbria, the first co-operative, community-owned pub. There are now 42 of these community pubs in the UK including one down the road from KAM HQ – The Ivyhouse – and very nice it is too (full disclosure; I have community shares in The Ivyhouse)!

We are constantly hearing adults are drinking less. In fact the number of adults who say they drink alcohol is at its lowest level since surveys began in 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  Since 2005 there has also been a 2% rise in the number of adults in Great Britain who say they don’t drink alcohol at all, equating to about 10.6 million people. The ONS states “young people” are the least likely to have drunk alcohol in the past week. Our recent Generation Z report, Tomorrow’s Shoppers Today, revealed 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds describe themselves as teetotal – more than twice the number of UK adults in general.

Should we make sure planners and developers look at the pub as something other than a location to drink alcohol? Many pubs near me seem to have sensibly exploited the lucrative family market and made their venues more attractive to the “yummy mummy” culture. Children now seem to be an accepted presence in many pubs – something that would have seemed unthinkable a few generations ago. In 1995 the ban on under-14s entering pubs in England and Wales was lifted and many pubs took the opportunity to remodel as more family-friendly and food-focused. This is where the argument to planners lies in my mind – the pub is a family-friendly third space that is necessary to cultivate a community feel in any development.

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