The first test case locally was the Plough at Shepreth. South Cambridgeshire District Council had refused an application to change it to a house so the developers went to appeal. They claimed that in recent years the Plough had operated as a restaurant, not a pub, so the Council's policy on protecting the last pub in a settlement didn't apply. As a restaurant, they argued, the Plough was no longer a village service or facility.

The Inspector who considered the appeal regarded the issues as "finely balanced". What swayed him in the right direction was clearly the NPPF which he said "offered weighty support to the retention and development of community facilities". He concluded that "loss of the Plough as a potential contributor to the social amenity of the village would be unacceptable" and dismissed the appeal.

The other two cases were in Cambridge. The potential problem here was that the City Council currently has no local planning policies which protect pubs - so, when refusing the applications, they relied on the NPPF (then in draft) to justify their decisions. Again, both applicants went to appeal and both appeals, happily, were dismissed.

First up, the Unicorn, Cherry Hinton. Greene King, who also own the nearby Robin Hood and Red Lion, closed the pub last year and applied for change of use to a single dwelling. Both CAMRA and Cambridge Past Present & Future based their objections mainly on the lack of marketing of the Unicorn as a pub; we argued that in the hands of a free trader or small brewery it would be entirely viable and offer an alternative to the food orientation of the other two pubs. The Inspector accepted these arguments and said that "the requirements of the Framework are not met". He saw no evidence that the site was no longer suitable for social/community use.

Next came the Carpenters Arms on Victoria Road, which Punch Taverns sold to a developer last year. He then applied for conversion of the building to residential apartments. The Inspector noted that Punch had not marketed or priced the property as a pub; his reading of the NPPF was that such marketing was essential to assess whether the community facility could be retained. He noted that there are other pubs in the general area but they are less targeted at serving the local community (actually a debatable point but we won't argue!). He concluded that the proposal "would therefore be contrary to the objectives of the Framework".

In the meantime, the City Council has been consulting on supplementary planning guidance which will give protection to pubs. CAMRA is strongly supportive of this initiative though we feel it could be strengthened further - for instance by requiring planning consent (through an Article 4 Direction) for changes of use to restaurants and shops (where you don't currently need permission). With 23 city pubs having closed in the last five years, these developments come none too soon.