When the term Asset of Community Value (“ACV”) is used in connection with pubs the most obvious connotation is in relation to the Localism Act 2011. This Act allows local community groups to apply to have properties that are perceived to be of community value listed as ACVs, thereby giving the community group the opportunity to acquire the relevant interest in the property should the property owner either dispose of the freehold interest in the property or grant a lease of the property for a term of in excess of 25 years.

We are, however, finding that the relevance of ACVs to pubs under the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (“2015 Order”) is frequently being overlooked by practitioners.

Whereas it is the case that ‘going up the ladder’ through the planning use classes from, say, Class A1 to Class A3 or from Class A3 to Class A4 has always required planning permission prior to implementation, a ‘slide down’ the planning use classes ladder from, say, Class A4 to a use within Classes A3, A2 or A1 has not historically required planning permission, as a result of what are known as Permitted Development Rights.

The 2015 Order has, however, altered these Permitted Development Rights so far as they relate to a change of use from a pub/bar use within Class A4 to a restaurant use within Class A3 or a retail use within Class A1.

Under the 2015 Order the procedure that now needs to be followed is that a notice needs to be served on the local planning authority of an intention to change the use of the premises and a period of 56 days needs to elapse. During this period, it is envisaged that the local planning authority will in turn give notice of the intended change of use to the local community with any community group then being allowed this 56 day period in which to make a nomination for the property to be listed as an ACV.

If such a nomination is made during this period, planning permission will be required for the required change of use (subject to there being a right for the building owner to oppose the nomination of the property as an ACV).

If no nomination is made during this period, the building owner will be free to proceed to implement the change of use but the change of use would need to be implemented within a period of one year from the expiry of the 56 day period.

It is worth noting that these provisions apply to all Class A4 premises regardless of their perceived value to the local community and would, therefore, attach to a downmarket bar as much as they would to an historic pub, which may have always been at the heart of the local community.

There has been an active campaign by various bodies including the Campaign for Real Ale (“CAMRA”) to protect the nation’s pubs from closure. CAMRA is campaigning vigorously through its local branches to try to ensure that as many as 3,000 pubs are listed as ACVs by the end of 2016. If you are, therefore, looking to take on A4 premises, you need to be alert to the effect of the 2015 Order in order to avoid taking on premises which you may not be able to use without obtaining planning permission, without, of course, there being any guarantee that planning permission for a change to a restaurant use would be obtainable.

There has also recently been coverage in the press about Wandsworth Borough Council who have taken the ground breaking step of issuing an Article 4 Direction removing Permitted Development Rights in relation to 120 pubs and bars in the borough. The understanding is that the Council has done so as it was felt that the 2015 Order did not offer enough protection to the borough’s pubs. It is the first local authority to take such action but it is anticipated that others may now follow suit. The effect of this action is that the newly imposed mechanism under the 2015 Order has been superceded such that any required change in use of those premises from Class A4 to a restaurant under Class A3 (or a shop under Class A1) will now require planning permission.

If you are a restaurant operator considering taking on Class A4 premises in Wandsworth it is worth bearing in mind that the Article 4 Direction will not come into force until August 2017. After that date any change of use of such premises will require planning permission which will have the effect, of course, of giving locals a far greater say in the redevelopment of the premises.

Please note that this information is provided for general knowledge only and therefore specific advice should be sought for individual cases.

For further information, please contact Philip Shotter