Law change urged to help save pubs
The Government has been urged to do more to protect pubs after new research revealed that closures have increased to 31 every week.
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said a "simple" change in the law would mean that a planning application was always needed before a pub was demolished or converted into another use.
Local campaigns have been launched in areas including Hereford, Braintree, Chesterfield, Reading, Harrogate, Lowestoft and Bognor Regis to stop pubs being converted into supermarkets, often without success.
The number of pubs closing has increased from 26 a week a year ago to 31 now, with suburban areas the worst hit, said Camra.
Thousands of real ale fans attending Camra's Great British Beer Festival in London this week will be asked to lobby their local MP to help save pubs.
Tom Stainer, of Camra, said: "Popular and profitable pubs are being left vulnerable by gaps in English planning legislation as pubs are increasingly being targeted by those wishing to take advantage of the absence of proper planning control.
"It is utterly perverse that developers are able to demolish or convert a pub into a convenience store or many other uses without any requirement to apply for planning permission.
"A pub is an entirely different proposition to a convenience store, estate agent or funeral directors and the planning system needs updating to reflect this fact.
"It is time for the Government to stop standing by while pubs are being targeted due to gaps in planning law."
Stephen Langdon, who is part of a group of locals trying to save the Maiden Over pub in Reading, said: " We found out just a couple of weeks ago that our valued local pub is shutting. My first thought on learning that Tesco were involved was that they would struggle to get planning permission for change of use - I was stunned when I learned that there was no requirement for this at all.
"The reality is that our local pub, a genuine community venue and the only public meeting place within a large residential area, is very likely to disappear, and the local community has had scarcely any opportunity to voice an opinion on the matter."
Communities Minister Stephen Williams said: "Councils already have powers available to them to protect pubs through article 4 planning directions, where there is a particular problem. However, excessive planning restrictions on changing the use of buildings would be counter-productive, leading to more empty, boarded up buildings.
"The best solution is for Camra and campaigners to keep using new rights to list their favourite locals as community assets - nearly 500 pubs have already been protected.
"The Government has also cut business taxes for community pubs, abolished the unpopular beer and alcohol duty escalators, axed the cider tax and made a pint eight pence cheaper than under the beer duty plans of the previous administration."