Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Where planning law fails us?

I don't pretend to be any kind of expert on planning, but I was puzzled by people telling me that Tesco had successfully "sneaked through" a change of use application with Lambeth Council to convert the George IV Music Bar on Brixton Hill to an Express grocery store, leaving opponents with an uphill battle.

Puzzled because there is no evidence of such an application on the council's database, which is supposed to be comprehensive for the last six years. Given that, I found it strange that neither planning officers nor local councillors have sought to clarify the situation to interested parties or through the media. Wilfulness? Ignorance? I'll leave that to you to decide, but I think local people who the council is supposed to serve have a right to know.

Having done some research it transpires that a change of use from pub to shop is not required under current planning law, which must make pubs a very attractive proposition for supermarkets. The situation is well explained here. But to summarise, there are four broad classes of development: (A) high street or shopping area use; (B) other business and industrial use; (C) residential use; and (D) non-residential social and community use. Generally speaking changes of use between sub-categories are permitted - and pubs and shops both fall within category (A).

A very sensible E-Petition proposing a change in the law to give councils greater powers to protect the diversity of town centres in cases such as this has just closed. It received only 80 signatures, showing, I think, how little understood this area of the law is.

Awareness should be raised because pubs up and down the country are being targeted for supermarkets, from here in Brixton, to Croydon, Derby and Manchester, to name but a few locations. My digging has yielded another surprise. I expected to see most of the big supermarkets employing this tactic, yet time and time again, it's Tesco's name that keeps cropping up. According to this article in the  Croydon media, Tesco proposed a "public consultation" in that locality. No sign of that happening in Brixton Hill.

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