Campaigners in plea to save pubs
Real ale campaigners have stepped up demands for the Government to do more to save pubs from closing after new figures showed that 29 were shutting every week.
The figure has barely improved over the past few years despite repeated calls for help through changes to planning laws.
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said the number of closures remained high at 29 a week, compared with 31 in the first few months of 2014 and 28 in 2013.
The total is almost twice as many as the 16 pubs which closed every week in 2011.
Tim Page, chief executive of Camra, said: "It is currently possible to convert a pub into a betting shop, pay-day loan store or supermarket without the need for planning permission, making it far too easy for pubs valued by the community to be lost without local people having a say. Given the huge contribution that pubs make to community life in Britain we believe this cannot be right."
Camra is urging support for a new clause in the Infrastructure Bill currently being debated by MPs, which would mean that planning permission would be needed before a pub was demolished or converted into a supermarket or other retail use.
Mr Page added: "The clause is a fantastic opportunity to get the Government to take swift action to close these planning loopholes. We urge every MP who supports local communities and local pubs to get behind this clause and help secure a better future for the great British pub industry.
"We hope that we can rally support from enough MPs to persuade ministers to reconsider their current refusal to provide effective planning protection for viable and valued pubs."
Camra said the change would give pubs the same protection that exists for sites such as theatres, scrap yards and nightclubs as well as giving communities the chance to have a say when their local pub is under threat.
A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "While permitted development rights play an important role in the planning system providing flexibility, reducing bureaucracy and allowing best use to be made of existing buildings, councils can use the powers we made available to them to remove these rights and ensure the change of use from a pub requires a planning application.
"As the local gatekeeper of the democratic process, town halls should be using these powers appropriately to play their part in protecting one of our national treasures, the Great British Pub.
"We are currently considering what further steps can be taken to protect community pubs whilst avoiding the blight of empty, boarded up property."