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Mike Wood: I rise as a member of the Campaign for Real Ale and one of the vice-chairmen of the all-party group on beer and brewing.
Given what we hear about the number of pubs closing each week, a proposal such as new clause 9 has a superficial attraction. After all, pubs are at the heart of our communities not only as a place for people to come together, with all the social and health benefits that that brings, but increasingly as community hubs, as more and more services are operating out of licensed premises.
James Morris Conservative, Halesowen and Rowley Regis
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mike Wood: I am afraid that I must continue.
Unfortunately, the new clause smacks a little of, “Something needs to be done. This is something, so it must be done.” What we really need is thriving pubs, but the new clause would do little to support them. Removing permitted development rights for change of use would put many more pubs at risk because those rights are a genuine asset that pubs can borrow against. They have a real value and mean not only that pubs can invest in development, but that they have a little more leeway when times are tough, knowing that should they fail, they will still have value because a change of use is available under permitted development. Although the mind is drawn more immediately to the 21 pubs a week that close than to the many more that are just about managing to stay open, the latter would be hit the hardest by the removal of permitted development rights.
We have heard a number of examples of successful pubs being converted into supermarkets, and addressing that is the purpose of the new clause. However, where there are successful pubs at the heart of our communities, they can already be added to the register of assets of community value so that permitted development rights are suspended, or councils can use article 4 directions to suspend those rights. The new clause is therefore not necessary, which is why I shall vote against it this evening.