Concerns over threats to the future of pubs across the Melton borough have prompted councillors to review the way they deal with plans to close them and change their use.
Melton Council aims to formulate a new policy for determining requests to make pubs Assets of Community Value (ACV), which give them temporary protection from being sold off as houses, or converted into shops or restaurants.
The move follows criticism from the council’s own deputy leader, Councillor Leigh Higgins, who feels the authority should be doing more to protect pubs.
Councillor Higgins is currently part of a community battle in his ward, where a government inspector will shortly decide if the owner of the only pub in Thorpe Satchville - The Fox Inn - can change its use.
The council has twice turned down planning permission for the proposal, leading to an appeal to be lodged, but the authority has also rebuffed applications to grant it an ACV.
Requests for ACVs have recently also been turned down for the Red Lion at Bottesford, the Castle Inn at Eaton and The Peacock at Redmile, and Councillor Higgins believes the council should be more amenable to granting them for pubs across the borough to avoid encouraging owners to change their use.
He told the Melton Times: “It is clear to me that Melton has been getting this wrong for a long time and simply does not understand the legislation, or government policy.
“Pubs are important to our communities so I have called for an immediate and thorough review with our new CEO, Edd de Coverly.
“My direction and strong political thrust is that we must be supportive of our pubs which serve as a vital part of our brand, being the rural capital of food and drink.”
His views were echoed by the Melton branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which says the council has been applying the test for whether to grant ACVs too severely.
The opportunity to protect pubs through ACVs was granted through the Localism Act 2011, giving communities time to come up with a bid to buy them, and Melton CAMRA has welcomed the council’s decision to review how it deals with them.
Branch chairman Kevin Billson said: “We have had a lot of dealings with Melton Council regarding ACVs.
“Along with the Vale of Belvoir branch of CAMRA, parish councils and unincorporated groups we have tried and struggled to get ACV nominations on public houses accepted by them.”
Four town centre pubs in Melton have recently become restaurants, one is now used by a charity, and the George Hotel was converted into residential apartments after being closed for some time.
Mr Billson added: “The bigger problem for us has been the town scene and pubs being turned into restaurants.
“Until very recently pub owners could do this without the need for planning permission if the pub was to become a shop or restaurant.
“Pubs being turned into residential properties might be more of an issue for our Vale of Belvoir branch.
“They are currently battling on a number of fronts and helping with ACV applications.”
Melton Council said it hopes to have its new policy on dealing with ACVs within the next couple of months.
A spokesperson said: “The review will be considered in the context of the council’s role as guardians of rural community and life, and recognising the role pubs play in rural communities.
“It will also take into account Melton’s reputation as the rural capital of food and drink and the council’s aspirations to support and develop this reputation.
“The review will ensure council balances the needs of all stakeholders as well as ensuring we maintain compliance with the legislation.
“At the conclusion of this review a new policy will be developed which should provide greater clarity to all stakeholders about the way in which decisions will be taken and a multi person panel will consider all requests.”
The policy change does not come too late for community groups who have had ACV requests turned down in recent weeks.
The council spokesperson added: “In light of this review, previous applicants are entitled to re-submit their applications should they wish to be reconsidered in accordance with the new policy once it is developed.”
Melton town pubs lost recently:
Golden Fleece and Mash Tub (became Indian restaurants);
Bricklayer’s Arms (soon to become an Indian restaurant);
The White Lion (Italian restaurant);
The Fox (now used by the Storehouse charity);
The George Hotel (converted for residential use);
Rutland Arms (demolished to make way for car park).
Village pubs converted into housing:
The Plough at Scalford;
Marquis of Granby at Waltham;
Bluebell at Asfordby;
Three Crowns in Somerby.
Recent applications for ACVs:
John Dory, Barkestone - decision pending;
Red Lion, Bottesford - rejected;
The Fox, Thorpe Satchville - rejected;
Castle Inn, Eaton - rejected
The Peacock, Redmile - rejected
The Windmill, Redmile - ACV nomination partially registered;
Red Lion, Stathern - ACV nomination partially registered.