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Have You Got a Too Difficult Pile?

Ritchie Clapson, co-founder of propertyCEO, comments

People quite like pubs and with very good reason. I don’t mind sharing that I’ve had some very enjoyable pub moments over the years. Bastions of our traditional way of life, they’re recognised the world over as being quintessentially English, and we’ve been eating and drinking in them since Adam were a lad. Curiosity having just got the better of me, I can share with you that Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans is the oldest pub on record, its structure dating back to 793AD. Ok, Adam may not exactly have been in his first flush of youth back then, but it’s still fair to say pubs have been with us for a while, and they’ve proved to be enduringly popular.

Yet, despite their popularity, we’re all aware that they’ve been on the decline of late. In 2021, pubs closed at a rate of over one a day, with many either being demolished or converted into residential homes. As a result, perhaps unsurprisingly, pubs have also proven popular with property developers. You can see the attraction; the buildings are usually quite spacious, in residential locations with good parking, and they’re easy to convert. They’re also often quite attractive to look at. Some swanky new apartments would slot in there quite nicely, thank you very much, so what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, most pubs fall into a category of development deal that should be neatly filed in a tray that seems to be completely absent from the desks of many developers. It’s called the Too Difficult Pile, and every developer should have one. You see, the problem with pubs is that they look super-attractive at face value, but all too often, they have a sting in their tail. Pubs sit in a planning use class called Sui Generis, which essentially means that there are no permitted development rights that allow you to convert them into residential buildings. So, you’ll need to apply for full planning permission and endure all the vagaries of our broken planning system while you wait for permission to be granted. Or refused. Then, of course, you’ll have to deal with the fact that pubs are often designated Assets of Community Value (ASVs). This means that the local community will likely want to retain them as pubs, or at least empty/semi-derelict pubs. And if it’s the last empty/semi-derelict pub in the village, be prepared for some genuinely robust feedback from the local community. They may not have visited the pub enough to keep it in business, but by Jiminy, they’re going to put up a fight to stop it from being converted into flats. This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be successful. It just means you’ll have chosen to hack through a jungle rather than skip across a meadow.

But pubs shouldn’t be on their own when it comes to the Too Difficult Pile. There’s another type of opportunity that looks equally attractive on first inspection, but which has a somewhat different challenge. It’s known as the ‘New Build Scheme With Planning Permission’, and as a development deal, it looks like an absolute corker.

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