Supermarket giants have earmarked two Harrogate pubs to convert into mini-supermarkets, taking advantage of a planning loophole which allows them to open without planning permission.
Tesco has confirmed it is planning to convert The Skipton pub in Bilton into a Tesco Express and Morrisons will open an M-Local store in the former Harrow pub on Knaresborough Road in May.
Two pubs in the district have already been converted to supermarkets in the last few years, The Mile Post on Leeds Road in Harrogate, which was converted to a Sainsbury’s in 2012 and The Old Star in Collingham which was converted to a Tesco Express last year,
CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) has called on the government to amend the law which allows the business giants to convert pubs without needing to apply for a change of use.
The planning loophole allows former pubs to be converted into retail use without change of use planning permission as long as the floor space is no more than 280 sq metres (3,000 sq ft).
“The big supermarket chains appear to be targeting pubs for conversion. This behaviour shows a remarkable disregard for the wellbeing of communities
that face losing their valued pubs – leaving local people powerless to step in,” said CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner.
“Allowing pubs to be converted to supermarkets without planning permission is ludicrous, and something which the Government need to address as a matter of urgency.”
John Longden OBE, founder of Harrogate-based initiative The Pub is the Hub, which was initiated by HRH the Prince of Wales as a way for communities to sustain local services, says pubs are a community hub in urban areas as well as in rural places.
He said: “It is a very big difference between a pub and a supermarket and it is a huge dilemma really, it is the same type of use according to planning law but it seems rather unfair that people don’t get to have a say.
“They might want a mini-supermarket, they might prefer it to an empty pub but this stops the community from having a say.
“If local authorities had to consider the proposals and consult then at least people would feel decisions were being dealt with fairly and the community could be consulted about the change of use.”
CAMRA’s Harrogate and District branch is encouraging people to register their local pubs as an Asset of Community Value to prevent future developments.
Allan Gould, chairman of the Harrogate and District branch said: “There really isn’t anything in common between a supermarket and a pub so it is very odd that they don’t need change of use.
“What we would like to see is the local community having a bigger say on the future of pubs and we would like to see more pubs recognised as assets of community value.
“It really is a loss of a community asset, but some communities don’t value the asset that much.”
He added: “Social changes have taken place over the last 20 or 30 years and we have to recognise that because of some of these changes some pubs are not viable. Thousands of pubs across the country close every year and it does seem to be more supermarkets than other businesses who are looking at taking over the premises.”
Research by CAMRA revealed that in 2012 and 2013 pubs were converted to supermakets in the UK at a rate of two per week, with Tesco the prolific supermarket converting 110 pubs in two years.
Tesco has confirmed they plan to step in and convert The Skipton pub after owner Enterprise Inns decided to close the premises due to falling trade.
Tesco spokesman Mark Thomas said: “A small convenience store in this location will serve the community well, providing great shopping choice and creating up to 20 new jobs. We will be sure to consult the community on our proposals.”
Bilton councillor Val Rodgers (Lib Dem) had not heard of Tesco’s plans until she was contacted by the Advertiser.
She said: “It was a popular pub and it will be a big loss for the community.
“We already a lot of little supermarkets, a Sainsbury’s and a Co-op, so I don’t think there is any need for another little supermarket around here. It will make is hard for small local shops to make a living and we have some nice shops around here.”
Bilton and Nidd Gorge County Coun David Simister (Ukip) echoed those concerns.
He said: “There is a huge difference between a pub and a supermarket, I think pubs are the fabric of the community.
“Local shops, such as butchers and florists could see their trade affected, how can independent retailers and places like One-stop shop compete? There isn’t any local consideration, the community aren’t going to be able to have their say.
“Tesco are opening in The Skipton which is just around the block from the new superstore which will be built after the Tour de France and there is going to be an Aldi on the retail park and the new M&S on Leeds Road, how many supermarkets do we need in Harrogate?”
Greene King, owners of The Harwood pub in Pannal have said they are ‘assessing their options’ but would not confirm if the site would be sold to a supermaket chain.
A Greene King spokesperson said: “Our strategy is to reduce the size of our tenanted and leased estate and to improve the overall quality of our remaining pubs. To achieve this we continually review our pubs and do sell those that no longer fit within our core estate.
“The Harwood currently remains open while we assess our options as part of this ongoing review.”
Both Co-op and Sainsbury’s have denied rumours they are planning to convert the pub, though a spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “We do look at pubs and brewers do contact us from time to time regarding unviable pubs but we have no plans.”
MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough Andrew Jones has lent his support to local pub campaigns in the past, most notably with The Guy Fawkes Inn at Scotton which was saved from demolition.
He said: “It is a shame when we lose local pubs and I have represented residents on a number of occasions when local pubs have been threatened.
“However, on other occasions success has eluded us because of a lack of community support, the sheer losses made by the pub, the lack of patronage or some other reason beyond local control.
“We need to be careful that we maintain the distinctiveness of our area. I am concerned that in some areas we will see a great many convenience stores at the expense of a mixture of shops and activities.”
He added: “I am also concerned that some pub sites are not suitable for conversion into shops that may bring an influx of cars.”
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‘Pubs have to adapt to change’
Steve Carr, landlord of The Woodlands pub on Wetherby Road has worked in pubs in Harrogate for 20 years.
He said he thinks that supermarket conversions are ‘better than an empty buildings’ and that pubs have had to adapt to change over the years.
“Supermarkets are better than empty buildings, there is no popint in them sitting there empty when they can be used by someone else.
“We can’t have pubs sitting empty like The Henry Peacock has been, we need to utilise the buildings.”
The Woodlands pub serves food in the day time and in the evenings, something Steve thinks is vital to the businesses success.
“The way people spend their income now is totally different.
“People still have that disposable cash but they are using of differently, Sky TV, gym subscription, takeaways and eating out instead of spending it on drinks.
“Pubs have had to adapt and not all of them have been able to, The Henry Peacock for example didn’t have a kitchen and couldn’t rely just on wet trade.
“You have got to adapt with the times and move forward and serving food is how to do that.”
Steve said The Mile Post on Leeds Road was a good example of supermarkets doing well in former pub units.
He said: “Just look at that Sainsbury’s. If Sainsbury’s hadn’t gone in there it would just be an empty pub but instead it’s being used by people and it’s always busy.”