Pubs in Lewisham must not be subject to the “whims of developers”, according to a councillor.  

Cllr Liam Curran, chair of the sustainable development committee, said the policies proposed to protect pubs from demolition “fell short” and that a “fool proof, granite strong” clause was needed. 

Last year it emerged that pubs were closing at a rate of 18 per week nationally.

After a steep decline, the number of pubs in the borough is rising - about 30 since 2015 - but according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “past evidence indicates that these numbers are subject to change and there are so few pubs in Lewisham that any further significant decline would push the trade close to disappearance”.

The sustainable development scrutiny committee carried out a review of pubs in the borough in 2012 and the signifcant decline in the 20 years previous was put down to alcohol prices, beer taxes, the 2008 recession, and “most significantly, high residential and retail values” making premises more lucrative as flats.  

The review also found that pubs have a positive role in the local area – often supporting community groups and local charities – and that “ a well-run pub has the potential to provide a locus for its neighbourhood and enhance the vitality of its locality”.  

Various changes were brought in to protect pubs in Lewisham after the report, including forcing developers to get planning permission if they want to change the use of the premises.  

A 36-month trial of how economically viable a pub is must also be carried out before demolition is granted.  

But pubs are still vulnerable – the committee’s most recent update said that since the ‘preserving local pubs’ report seven years ago, “developers have found ways to thwart the intention of the new rules”. 

Last summer a pub in New Cross came under threat after its owners applied to build flats over the premises.  

Patrick and Joseph Ryan, who run popular music venue the White Hart, argued that their business would become “untenable” if they were forced to close at midnight and lower the noise levels.  

After launching a campaign to save the pub, thousands of people signed their petition and Lewisham Council blocked the application.  

But Cllr Curran said pubs are often saved after a community-led campaign rather than council policy.  

Speaking at mayor and cabinet on Wednesday (November 20), Cllr Curran said: “The reason why I’m here today is because of a very important thing that’s going to affect all of us, the development of the local plan. 

 “It was the decision of the committee that the latest iteration fell short of the desire of most members […] to strengthen the element of preserving and saving Lewisham’s pubs from demolition and loss, which is normally due to land values and nothing to do with the ability to run a pub.” 

He said pubs that came under threat of development in the borough were saved after “people fought really hard”. 

“The whole community fought to preserve these pubs and won in the end but it wasn’t easy. 

“So what we want to do is to make sure that the local plan has a fool proof granite strong clause that says we want to keep our pubs and they won’t be subject to the whims of developers,” Cllr Curran said.  

He said the committee was “unhappy with the latest iteration” but was in talks with the council’s head of planning to strengthen protections for pubs.  

Cllr Curran added: “We need this because under the current rules they are still vulnerable under the way we all know that planning can go.”

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