I have now had the opportunity to skim read the government’s response to the detailed call for evidence taken by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003.
Whilst the Government accepts that some changes need to be made, they do not accept the Committee’s report findings that a “radical comprehensive overhaul of the Licensing Act is needed.”
The Government has also stressed that it does not intend to hastily instigate an overhaul of the legislation but will make some changes to the statutory guidance under section 182 of the Act and look at the provision of good quality training to licensing committee members.
The Government rejects some of the recommendations outright and also comments that there are several recommendations which are a “spur to further work, particularly in respect of how the system of licensing can be made to function more effectively and the lessons that can be learned from the planning system.”
A few of the standout recommendations and the government response are as follows:
We believe that the debate and the consultation on transferring the functions of licensing committees and sub-committees to the planning committees must start now, and the pilots must follow soon as possible.
The basic structures of the planning and licensing system are similar and our focus will be on improving how the two regimes communicate and interact at local level. There is good practice in many local areas that we will disseminate and build on, for example whether there is additional support that local residents could be given to frame and present their concerns about a licensing application to the Committee effectively. Local planning authority is already listed in the Act as a responsible authority and therefore has a statutory role in considering applications for the grant, variation or review of a premises licence.
Licensing authorities should publicise the reasons which have led them to settle an appeal, and should hesitate to compromise if they are effectively reserving an earlier decision which residents and others intervening may have thought they could rely on.
We agree that there should be transparency around the decisions made on the licensing appeals, in particular for local residents who may have attended a hearing and expect the decision to be implemented. This is anticipated to be picked up in the section 182 guidance.
We recommend that appeals from licensing authorities should no longer go to Magistrates’ Courts, but should lay to the planning inspectorate, following the same course as appeals from planning committees.
The Government notes that Committee’s comments on the appeals process. We do not intend to change the system so that licensing appeals no longer go to the Magistrates’ Courts but lay to the planning inspectorates.
We recommend that notice of an application should not need to be given by an advertisement in a local paper. Notices should be given predominantly by online notification systems run by the Local Authority.
The Government considered that the removal of the requirement to advertise details in a newspaper would be a step backwards from the efforts the government has made to empower local people and local areas in tackling local alcohol related problems.
We recommend that licensing authorities be given the power to object Temporary Event Notices, alongside police and environmental health officers. The Government dismissed this but suggested that section 182 guidance should recommend that licensing authorities consider how to bring TEN’s to the attention of residents who may be particularly effected, for example if there have been previous complaints about premises.
Feedback from licensing authorities suggests that having the power to object to TENs would not be practical within the statutory time period allowed, due to the high volumes received and the additional scrutiny that would be required.
We recommend that development and implementation of a comprehensive police licensing officer training programme, designed by the College of Policing. Whilst we accept that such an undertaking will require additional funds, these costs will likely be more than offset if the quality of police licensing decisions is improved, thereby reducing the number of appeals and other corrective procedures.
The Government agrees that comprehensive training should be available to all officers required to undertake licensing duties.
We support the Government’s current move to transfer cumulative impact policies from the section 182 guidance and to place them on a statutory footing as this will introduce much needed transparency and consistency in this area.
Whilst this was put on hold during the consultation process, the changes will continue to be introduced by the Police & Crime Act 2017 which will amend the Licensing Act 2003 to place CIP’s on a statutory footing.
We believe it is appropriate that no Early Morning Restriction Orders have been introduced and we recommend that, in due course, the provisions on EMROs should be repealed.
Although no licensing authorities have implemented an EMRO, we believe it is important to keep this tool available should any licensing authority wish to consider whether it is suitable for use in their area.
It is interesting to note from the report that a vast majority of the most contentious recommendations are not to be pursued or at the very oust introduced into the section 182 guidance document rather than primary legislation.
The full report can be found at the following link and we will of course update as we see further progress on this report: