Independent retailers are calling for a change in planning laws amid concerns over the growing number of disused pubs being converted into convenience stores by the multiples.
New research by Savills shows that an increasing number of pubs it sells are being bought with an alternative use in mind, rising from 32.2% in 2009 to 60% so far this year, while seperate research from the Campaign for Real Ale shows that Tesco and Sainsbury’s have converted 130 and 22 pubs into c-stores respectively since January 2010. Current legislation enables retailers to convert disused pubs without planning permission.
In Portishead, Somerset, Costcutter retailer Icy Patel is leading the charge against Tesco’s plans to convert a former local pub into an Express store. His campaign has alerted North Somerset MP Dr Liam Fox, who has written to secretary of state Eric Pickles raising the option of reviewing the legislation.
“Pubs are converting to convenience stores everywhere you look in Sheffield. It’s not just Tesco - pound shops and Asian restaurants are also doing it. It’s over-saturating the market. There’s just not enough people to justify all the c-stores.”
Patrick Moon, Spar Hackenthorpe, Sheffield
Icy said local people were overwhelmingly against Tesco’s plans. “Only one out of 130 people who turned up to a public meeting wanted Tesco, and 2,500 people have signed our petition. If Tesco can’t be stopped by the council people will boycott it.”
He added that, due to road safety concerns, Tesco would probably not have been granted planning permission had they required it.
Raj Aggarwal, of Londis Wigston, Leicestershire, bought a disused pub this year to stop the multiples from getting there first. “We would never have dreamed of buying it otherwise,” he said.
“The pub wasn’t up for sale but I found out that Tesco and Co-op had been looking at it. I had to pay a premium for it because it wasn’t on the market.”
Raj, who re-opened the property as a family pub in August, warned of the difficulties of converting disused pubs to convenience stores. “It costs a fortune to convert it to a c-store, and then re-fit it and stock it. But the mults can afford to do it.”
Tristan King, of Londis Retford, Nottinghamshire, also bought a disused pub last year. He said: “Our concern was that a multiple would move in but we also felt we could get growth out of it.”
However, he would welcome a change of planning law wholeheartedly. “I’ve benefited from it but I’ve got lots of friends in the industry who are really suffering because of this.”
James Lowman, Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive, said: “Local plans should be able to specify not just what type of store gets built, but whether that business adds to the diversity of the area. We campaigned hard for this amendment to the Localism Bill.
“In the meantime, retailers are left to fight against new supermarket c-stores opening up in pubs. Independents are expanding into pub premises as well, so the answer lies in good planning rather than a blanket prohibition.”