Call for new powers to protect Norwich’s pubs from the axe

The former Firs pub, which is now a Tesco. Calls will be made tonight to make it tougher for pubs to

The former Firs pub, which is now a Tesco. Calls will be made tonight to make it tougher for pubs to be converted without planning permission. - Credit: Archant copyright 2011

Community pubs in Norwich could be handed a lifeline if the city council is given more powers to stop them being turned into supermarkets or demolished without the need for planning permission.

That's the view of Green councillors at Norwich City Council, who will tonight call on the council to request extra powers from Westminster.

But debate is likely to rage over whether that request is worth making or whether the council should be fighting against another potential blow to pubs.

In the past few years several former pubs in the Norwich area have been converted into different uses, with the former Firs pub in Cromer Road becoming a Tesco supermarket and the Millhouse in Thorpe St Andrew reopening as an East of England Co-op store.

At present pubs can be turned into supermarkets without the new owners having to apply for planning permission.

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The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) wrote to the city council asking the authority to make a proposal to the government to amend planning regulations so permission and community consultation is needed before community pubs are allowed to be converted or knocked down.

So Green city councillor for Mancroft ward, Amy Stammers, has put forward a motion to tonight's council meeting that the authority should agree to push the government to allocate powers to support community pubs.

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She said: 'Norwich has lost a number of community pubs in recent years. It is possible through the Sustainable Communities Act for the council to be given more power to determine if pubs should be demolished or converted into other uses, and this could save many valued community pubs.

'We want councils across the country to force the government to make sure that planning permission and community consultation are required before community pubs are allowed to be converted.'

The motion will also call for the council to work together with Local Works and the Campaign for Real Ale to gain support for the proposal from other councils.

James Wright, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the city council, said they would support the motion. He said: 'Pubs are a vital part of the community, so it's important that councils do all they can to preserve these community assets.'

However, Labour are yet to decide whether they will support the motion or seek to amend it, especially with the issue due to be discussed at tomorrow's meeting of the city council's sustainable development panel.

In papers which will come before that committee, officers question how worthwhile it would be to make a request under the Sustainable Communities Act - or whether they are better off making the case in a response to another proposed planning change, which officers warn could create another timebomb for pubs.

Officers say the changes could make it theoretically possible to convert a pub to housing under new permitted development rights, after first changing it – however briefly – to a shop or financial/professional service use. And they advise councillors that challenging this could prove 'more practicable'.

Mike Stonard, Labour's cabinet member for environment and development, said: 'While the Green proposal is fine as far as it goes, we don't think it goes far enough. 'We really want to protect community pubs and we share Camra's concerns, but we want to take effective action. The Green motion is one way, but that might not be as effective as what the sustainable development panel could decide to do the next day in its response to the proposed planning changes.'

Warren Wordsworth, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk Camra branch, said: 'I look forward to hearing from the council. We will support and work with the council on this. We have lost so many pubs recently, that we need to keep as many as we can.'

The Norwich Evening News has, through its Love Your Local campaign, sought to highlight the pubs which are at the heart of our communities and to encourage people to use them or lose them.

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