Pub protection policy under spotlight

Posted: 22nd January 2014

pubAs pubs continue to disappear up and down the country, one London council has taken a stand at the High Court. The London Borough of Islington is asking the Court to quash a planning inspector’s decision to approve demolition of the ‘Good Intent’ pub and its replacement by six three-storey town houses.

The Council argued that the inspector wrongly failed to apply a local policy requiring that a pub must stand vacant for at least two years, and have no realistic prospect of being re-opened, before redevelopment will be permitted. In the case of the ‘Good Intent’, the premises were still open when planning permission was applied for.

There was, the Council submitted, also no evidence that the pub’s owners had attempted to market it as a going concern, as required by the policy. However, in his decision, the inspector found that the pub had been kept open in order to avoid the costs associated with securing empty premises.

The would-be developers had demonstrated that it was unlikely that an alternative operator would be attracted to the ‘Good Intent’ and the inspector found that the overall objectives of the policy had been satisfied, bearing in mind the proximity of other pubs in the area.

However, the Council argued that the inspector erred in law in failing to apply the clear terms of the policy and that, just because its current owners could not make a success of the ‘Good Intent’, that did not mean that another operator would be unable to do so. The inspector’s decision would cause ‘substantial prejudice’ in that it would be relied upon by others seeking to redevelop pubs in the area.

Lawyers representing the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government argued that, taken in its proper context, the policy's overall aim was not to protect all public houses but only those of particular value and importance to the local community. There was no evidence that the ‘Good Intent’ was such a pub. The pub’s owners insisted that the inspector’s decision was unimpeachable in the light of uncontested evidence that the pub was not viable. The Court reserved its decision in the case and will give its ruling at a later date.