These laminated documents stuck to lamp posts are more important than the usual temporary changes to parking restrictions – they’re protection for our pubs. Following the controversial death of the Castle on Battersea High Street, which was bought, closed and demolished by developers despite local uproar, Wandsworth has pushed the boat out to protect the Borough’s pubs. They’ve really led the charge on this, and got a fair bit of national media attention for issuing a so-called Article 4 direction restricting developers’ ability to change the use of no fewer than 120 pubs and bars.
This means that ‘permitted development rights’, which allow developers to convert pubs to other uses like mini supermarkets without the need to seek any permission (other than for trivial and hard-to-refuse issues like signage and changes to air conditioning and fire door layouts), have been withdrawn for these 120 pubs. This gives the Council a far better degree of control. This was quite a big job – the pubs and bars across the Borough had to be assessed, essentially to define whether they had an important community function.
This isn’t the end of the story of course, as developers can still apply to change use and national policy doesn’t give Wandsworth carte blanche to say no – but this is where the other change comes in, the new supplementary planning guidance (essentially, an agreed approach to developing the area, which is formally consulted on so carries a fair bit of weight) it means that local democracy should count for more.
This map shows the protected local pubs on Lavender Hill. There are no surprises, the pubs in question are the Crown (a good pub and a healthy business, although itself the subject of some recent planning issues), the Four Thieves, the Fox & Hounds (our only pub with a resident cat), Revolution, and of course the Falcon. These are all doing well, but then that was also the case at the Castle before it was demolished.
The Article 4 direction does include a handful of prominent recently-closed pubs, though Lavender Hill’s recently lost Ashtar at 5 Lavender Hill (formerly The Cedars) isn’t one of them, it faces an uncertain future after the most recent of a series of sometimes tenants seemingly moved to a new unit under the railway arches in Vauxhall. Clearly The Lavender – once a pub of sorts but now a successful restaurant – hasn’t quite fitted in to the ‘pub’ category either.
All in all, this represents some good work by Wandsworth, who deserve credit for finding a way through in a tricky policy area. Any pub still needs to succeed and attract customers if they are to prosper in the long term, but by ensuring changes to pubs that affect the whole community have to go through the planning process and be consulted on locally, this strengthens local democracy. Above all, it makes it harder for third party landlords to suddenly pull the rug from under the feet of viable local businesses in search of a quick buck.