TOUGH new guidelines will be introduced in a bid to save Southampton’s pubs.

Civic chiefs have voted to introduce a directive forcing any firm wanting to convert a pub to go through the planning process.

And with 28 pubs closing every week in the UK, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has renewed calls for councils to act as the last line of defence for threatened inns.

Current planning laws mean companies can convert pubs without having to submit a planning application.

But Labour council chiefs have decided to act after the closure of a number of pubs in the city in recent years.

Once-popular watering holes such as The Castle in Midanbury, The Anchor and Hope in Freemantle, The Bulls Eye in Sholing and The Woodman in Lord’s Wood have all become shops or takeaways.

They had asked the Government to change the law to stop pubs being converted without planning permission and community consultation, but the request was knocked back by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

They have however taken up one avenue that remained open to them.

A planning law known as an Article 4 Direction can ensure planning applications are required, although the Communities Secretary will still have powers to modify or cancel them.

The city council’s Cabinet has now voted to approve introducing the laws in a year’s time, which is required to allow affected firms time to respond.

Council leader Simon Letts said: “The idea is that change of use permission is required if anybody wants to change a local pub into a convenience store, and this ensures all of them will have to go through planning and put to residents.

“It is a welcome step as we have lost a substantial number of community pubs in the last three to five years and we do not want to see any more.

“This will give the council chance to debate them, rather than them going through like financial fait accompli.”

The change comes as CAMRA calls on more councils to introduce measures such as Article 4 Directions, and for the Government to allow councils to have more powers to block pub conversions.

CAMRA’s Tom Stainer said: “CAMRA is grateful to the councils who are leading the way in pub protection, but it is still too few, we want all councils to follow suit “Weak planning laws are a major contributing factor to pubs closing and central Government need to give councils greater powers so they can do more to protect pubs.

“At the moment ministers are letting down communities by allowing pubs to be demolished or converted to a whole range of retail uses without any planning permission being required.”