Campaigners celebrate as York pub saved from the hands of the supermarkets

Staying as a pub… the Punch Bowl on Lowther Street. Photograph: YorkMix
23 Jul 2015 @ 10.10 am
| News

The latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) make grim reading in the ongoing battle to preserve the nation’s heritage.

Twenty-nine pubs per week are closing for good with most either being demolished for housing or being subject to change of use for other retail purposes.

York is no stranger to this threat. That is why the latest protection on The Punch Bowl in Lowther Street, granted by York council on Wednesday night, is most welcome.

The Punch Bowl is now an Asset of Community Value (ACV). That gives it protection against sale or conversion to a retail unit by giving the local community a say in what happens to it.

How does it work?

The ACV offers national protection against supermarket conversions by removing certain development rights, but this only came into law on April 6 this year.

It is a welcome new tool that councils can use to protect pubs.

And it saves the hugely time consuming and detailed procedures that we had to undertake last year to successfully get a piece of law called an Article 4 Direction (A4D) placed on the Punch Bowl last December when Tesco wanted to turn it into a supermarket.

This A4D meant that no conversion could be undertaken without planning permission which Tesco formerly would not have needed.

Without wanting to bore you silly with legal or technical jargon, the A4D was a very rare achievement and of 47,000 pubs in the UK was only the 14th to get such protection at that time.

Worth the effort

Nick (right) and Punch Bowl locals sign the ACV application forms
Nick (right) and Punch Bowl locals sign the ACV application forms

Having authored the A4D application document I can tell you that it involved a lot of tedious painstaking research that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I spent nigh on 40 hours going through government documents and having conversations with planning chiefs of other councils that had incorporated local pub protection policies.

I also drew on the advice and experience of national CAMRA and acknowledged experts and national campaigners such as York’s Paul Crossman.

It was all worthwhile however, to help protect a local pub that offers so much to residents in the Groves area of York.

It’s a vibrant community hub that host meetings for local organisations and students from St John’s University; it raises money for charity and is welcoming to a real cross section of people: from groups of friends; residents of a local mental health care home who use it for integrating back into society, to those living on their own who meet people there for company.

Most importantly – a petition of more than 1,200 local residents proved that this was an asset that the community wanted protecting.

When it received the Article 4 Direction (A4D) protection, Tesco took heed and abandoned their plans. The licensee has been rewarded with a long term lease.

Chance to save more pubs

Thankfully campaigners wanting to save other York pubs will learn that an A4D is no longer necessary.

Such is the protection that the ACV offers, CAMRA has launched a national initiative to list 3,000 pubs as Assets of Community Value by 2016.

To get a pub listed, it requires an application form to be submitted to the local council outlining concrete reasons why the pub is important to the community. And it must be accompanied by the signatures of 21 local people.

This could also offer help to the new Conservative and Lib Dem York council administration. It will have to make a decision at some point on the council motion passed before the election to look at a blanket Article 4 Direction for all York’s pubs.

The ACV route, whilst not offering 100% protection (because nothing can), would be a far cheaper, less time consuming and risk averse method of achieving exactly the same goal.

In a climate of government cuts where every penny locally must be spent wisely this would seem an eminently sensible option to preserve York’s nationally renowned pubs for future generations of residents and tourists.