Black Country politicians have backed greater powers to stop community pubs being sold off or redeveloped as superstores, housing or fast food restaurants.
Walsall Council approved a motion which also called on the Government to hand down more planning powers to the local authority to protect the local boozer from redevelopment.
According to the Campaign for Real Ale, CAMRA, last year 18 pubs a week closed across the UK, but at the height of the recession the rate was 52 pubs per week.
Many have been turned into supermarkets, converted into flats, care homes or restaurants or even completely demolished.
The motion was put forward by the council’s Lib Dem deputy leader Ian Shires (Willenhall North) under which he also urged community groups to list their locals as official assets of community value, which would make it more difficult for owners to sell them.
Coun Shires said that one of his favourite pubs, the Duke of Cambridge in Short Heath, is a focal point for the area and a place where he can meet residents and where some community groups hold meetings.
“It is not just for drinking, but for networking. A real community pub will be the place where people can meet and find out what is going on in their area.”
The motion was unopposed although Coun Shires said that some Conservative councillors had abstained from the vote - suggesting it was not the council’s role to restrict businesses in this way.
Under the motion Walsall Council’s planning department must now amend local planning policies ‘to stipulate that no pub will be allowed to change use unless it is demonstrated that continued trading is not economically viable, the premises has been marketed as a pub unsuccessfully for a stipulated minimum period, and the change will not create a shortage of pubs within easy walking distance of the premises’.
They are also requesting additional powers from Government under the Sustainable Communities Act to further bolster the planning policy in favour of pubs.
The want the Government to ensure that ‘planning permission and community consultation are required before community pubs are
allowed to be converted to betting shops, supermarkets, pay-day loan stores or other uses, or are allowed to be demolished’.
Coun Shires is also backing the national campaigns by Camra and the Yorkshire Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland’s ‘Fair deal for you local campaign’ which is aiming to end the trend of closures and force a change in Government.
He added that Government business secretary Vince Cable is looking at regulating Tied-Pubs as the restrictive and very costly tenancy deals issued to landlords by Pubcos has been blamed as contributing to the closures.
Under the deals landlords not only pay rent for the business, but then must buy stock from the same company at above market rates.
Under the Lib Dem minister’s initiative landlords will either be allowed to buy stock on the open market rather than be tied to a particular supplier.
Recent research by Camra highlighted how important a role pubs play in communities with findings that three quarters of respondents in a survey have taken part in birthday celebrations in a pub, while almost half have been to a wake, and a similar amount on a date in a pub.
A third had wet the baby’s head.
CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said, “This research shows how many communities rely on the pub to celebrate important landmarks in our lives from wetting the baby’s head to toasting someone’s life.
"With more local facilities like community halls closing around Britain, the British pub is for many the only facility the community can use.
"The new research does throw open the question - Where would we be celebrating special occasions or meeting our future loved ones without the local pub?”