The property search

We’re asked again and again, where and when are we opening?? A few weeks ago we found premises which, although not perfect, would have been perfectly adequate. Unfortunately the landlord decided to sell the property instead of taking us on as tenants. The new owners probably have their own business ideas for the premises, but who knows, they may put it back on the market to let out again.

In the meantime, the property search has begun again in earnest. Our criteria for finding a home for our micropub are as follows:-

1. The premises should be fairly small so we can benefit from lower business rates, less rent and low start-up costs. A vacant high street shop between 400 to 800 square feet would be ideal. The building itself should already have shutters, heating, hot water and toilet facilities so most all we’d need to do is install a bar, redecorate and put out some seating.

2. Adjacent properties need to be compatible and contribute the right kind of passing trade. We had our eyes on a railway arch until we saw that it was across the street from a homeless shelter. Other incompatible neighbours are schools, crèches, hospices etc.

3. We need to be near plenty of people who live or work within walking distance, yet not within the immediate vicinity of residents who might be disturbed by the comings and goings of our customers or deliveries (although we will do all we can to minimise disruption and not have late hours). As they say in the pub trade, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for lots of chimney pots.

4. We need good public transport links for people travelling in, with a bit of parking nearby for distributors making deliveries at the very least. The bus stop however should not be right outside our front door.

5. A back yard would make an ideal a beer garden as we don’t want smokers hanging around the front, plus we’ll need an area for our recycling and for storing empty casks. Although we know of micropubs that have residents living directly above the premises, these have also had their applications for beer gardens denied by the town planners. Again, it’s important to have neighbours close, but not too close.

Finding suitable premises is just the start: the paperwork-filling process that follows can take months. Before being able to sell alcohol in England or Wales, a micropub needs to have:-

1. A Designated Premises Supervisor. At least one person running the micropub needs to hold a Personal Licence issued by their local council. The first step to earning this is to undertake the Award for Personal Licence Holders (APLH). You will see online that most training providers offer this as a single day of study which is rounded off by taking the exam. A week or two later, a certificate is sent to candidates who have successfully passed. The certificate then needs to be forwarded with the results of a criminal records check along with other forms and fees to the local council where you live who will issue the Personal Licence.

2. An alcohol licence for the premises. This involves more council paperwork and fees; the review process takes 4 weeks but can be extended if any objections come in, plus you might be left for several weeks waiting for the actual licence to be issued. It’s important at the earliest stages of the property search to make sure the landlord is happy with the micropub business idea. Even then, there might be hiccups: we’re aware of a micropub whose application was held up for weeks when a restrictive covenant going back decades was found by the legal teams negotiating the lease which banned the sale of alcohol on the premises.

3. Class A4 planning permission for the building*. Retail shops are class A1, so a change in use planning application needs to be made in order to allow on-site drinking at your pub (A4). Once more, the council requires more paperwork and fees; the process takes about 8 weeks, but again this can be extended if there are sufficient objections to require a hearing. Some councils are happy to review planning applications and provide advice beforehand; other councils do this only if you pay a fee which works out to be about the same amount as the fees you’ll be paying anyway when submitting the paperwork.

*We are aware of an operation which cheekily claims to be a class A1 beer shop that happens to provide ‘tastings’: tastings that attract over 50 people on a Friday night. We also heard of a furniture shop that provided customers with a free pint of beer if they bought a beer mat, although they have since been rumbled and required to obtain a licence. If you are serving cooked food and can demonstrate this will contribute to a majority of your turnover, you could open as a class A3 licenced cafe and take advantage of the current concession which allows class A1 premises to be temporarily opened as class A3 without planning permission. It means needing a kitchen and diluting the core concept of the micropub, keeping things small and simple.

With a Personal Licence and an alcohol licence for the premises, you would be allowed to operate as an off-licence. You may find that running a bottled beer shop is a good way to ease into the trade, meet locals and fine tune your marketing.  It would also bring in an income until the change in planning use is agreed. There is however the risk that despite having an off licence for the premises that the change in use and/or on licence would be turned down. You would need to extend your licence to include the consumption of alcohol on the premises which would be treated as a major variation, meaning you’d have to start a new application and pay all the fees associated with it.

4. Building work approved by Building Control. You will want an architect and a builder to size up your potential premises to advise on the work which will be required so that it complies with building regulations. The planning permission and licencing teams are happy with hand-drawn floorplans, but detailed blueprints are required by Building Control in order for them to review the fire safety equipment, electrics, plumbing, etc. This involves still more forms and fees to be handed over to the council, who will then send over inspectors during the building work before issuing an approval certificate upon satisfactory completion.

All this means it’s unlikely we’ll be opening before the end of the year, so we’re not taking any Christmas party bookings!

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