Protecting pubs through changes to planning law is “not deliverable”, community pubs minister Bob Neill has warned campaigners, writes Ewan Turney. However, he has promised to look at a “mixture” of ways to improve protection of pubs and boost the chances of communities taking over assets where they are both viable and valued. The All-Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, in conjunction with the Campaign for Real Ale, had issued Neill with a Charter for Protecting Pubs in England. The charter calls for an end to the “scandal” of closing profitable pubs against the wishes of the community. It wants changes to the planning system to ensure pubs can’t be demolished or undergo change of use without planning permission. It also wants to ensure a guarantee that a pub will not be lost where there is a viable bid to buy it and to continue running it as a pub. Neill warned the Save the Pub Group that he could not deliver protection for every single pub. “I don’t think it is deliverable — and certainly not through the planning system, as it deals with the regulation of land use. If you are regulating a certain type of business use, that is not deliverable.” He added: “You can’t use the planning system to alter the shape of the market.” However, he said the Government would look to protect pubs by instigating a review of how Article 4 works. This allows councils to ensure planning permission is submitted before certain developments are made in certain circumstances. Neill also promised support for community pub ownership. “What we would want to do is to give any community the maximum opportunity to buy the pub,” he said. Save the Pub Group chairman Greg Mulholland pressed Neill on so-called “predatory purchasing” whereby supermarkets buy up viable pubs to turn them into shops. “I think you have got it in too narrow terms and I don’t think that helps the case by putting it in those terms of the fast buck,” said Neill. “There may be a good reason to sell.” He added: “You can’t save every pub as it’s not viable in every case. But we can give the community some breathing space to buy it. “I don’t want to be negative, but realistic.”