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Will High Street Rental Auctions ruin Britain’s historic pubs?

On its surface, the decision to allow vacant pubs to be brought back into use is a positive step forward for the British high street. But the reality brings about the risk of venues being gutted in favour of redevelopment.

Will High Street Rental Auctions ruin Britain's historic pubs?

The Government has confirmed that the High Street Rental Auctions plan will come into effect in September, making vacant properties available via auctions.

The scheme will give local authorities the ability to instigate an auction on properties that have remained vacant, in the hopes of removing empty sites and encouraging new high street business investments.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said the Government had rightly identified hospitality businesses as “the bellwether of local economies”.

“The proposals to allow vacant properties to be brought into use via auction will create opportunities for hospitality businesses to move into high streets, generating local investment and creating places where people want to live.

Nicholls said she was “pleased that protections for pub sites have been addressed” as the decision will “help protect the cultural and historic role pubs play in our society”.

However, the decision by Government has come under fire from other areas of the hospitality trade, who argue that the way the scheme is being actioned will put historic pubs at risk.

Gary Timmins, pub and club campaigns director for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said the news was “disappointing”.

Commenting on the publication of the Government response to the consultation on High Street Rental Auctions, Timmins called it “yet another missed opportunity”.

“Campaigning to see vacant pubs brought back into use is one of CAMRA’s core objectives and the proposals for High Street Rental Auctions had the potential to be a really positive move, particularly the proposal’s focus on community uses,” he said. “We know that pubs can increase and expand footfall on the high street, and we hoped Government understood this too.

“However, it was vital that pubs kept their planning protection under the scheme. CAMRA called on Government to ensure that pubs that became part of the High Street Rental Auction scheme weren’t gutted of their fittings ahead of bids for the premises, and this recommendation hasn’t been taken forward – leaving developers a clear path to permanently converting these venues.

Timmins cited the recent Crooked House scandal, in which the Black Country pub’s destruction was treated as arson by local Staffordshire Police. He said that “current planning protections for pubs simply aren’t fit for purpose”.

He continued: “High Street Rental Auctions could have been a chance for Government to take a fresh approach and affirm their support for pubs. Instead, their response to this consultation is looking like yet another missed opportunity.”

The Government has created provisions for Local Authorities to set the uses for which bids will be permitted

CAMRA is urging the Trailblazer Authorities that will trial High Street Rental Auctions to make use of this provision, to protect high street pubs from what it calls “unscrupulous redevelopment”.

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