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Andy Woods reviews 2017 for the Woods Whur team

There is no doubt that 2017 has been an amazing year for Woods Whur in many ways. We have taken on 5 new members of staff who have all settled in very well and proved to be a great addition to the Firm, and a further solicitor (our seventh) will be joining us in March 2017. We have seen the business continue to grow, with major new clients and smaller independent clients instructing us and, by retaining our core values, we have continued to be extremely successful throughout the UK.

The admin team has been strengthened by the addition of Emma Holmes in January, Sarah Griffiths in May and Sara Price in November. Emma and Sarah deal with general administration matters whereas Sara has joined us to take over the Accounts Department. Sara has also brought a new twist to the rugby league banter as she would appear to be a committed Castleford fan / WAG. This should make for some interesting discussions on Monday mornings as we already have a great Hull rivalry with Paddy and Carole (Hull FC) competing with my team (the mighty Hull Kingston Rovers). We all have a certain amount of sympathy for Amy who is a big Bradford Bulls fan. Her team is not going through the best of times at the moment (I can sympathise with Amy!).

In May 2017, James Thompson joined us. James is a vastly experienced regulatory lawyer with a good following of clients and James joining us has extended the scope of the work that we can carry out for the leisure market. James is based in the North East and has been flat out since he has joined us and is a great addition to the Senior Lawyer team.

We were also joined in May by Vinnie Schumacher who, although qualified in New Zealand, is just completing his qualifications in the UK and we are all keeping our fingers crossed for January 2018 when Vinnie gets his exam results. Vinnie must be the only person who can join a firm based in Leeds and be of the opinion that it doesn’t rain much in Leeds. This is because, as Vinnie explained during his introductory talk, Vinnie comes from Wellington in New Zealand, where apparently it always rains.

In March 2018, Leigh Schelvis will join us to add further strength to our team.

We continue to advise clients up and down the UK and maintain a leading presence in London.  Anna Mathias continues to cement her position as one of the leading advisors to the Gambling Industry in the UK with a level of expertise in the Casino and lotteries areas which, without a doubt is unmatched by any other solicitor in the UK. It has been a great pleasure for Paddy and me to see Anna develop her client base and she was rewarded with the inaugural Poppy welsh terrier mug at our annual Christmas Party.

We also managed, during the end of year presentation, to find a picture of Carole’s desk without Carole actually sitting there. Carole has put in a phenomenal stint this year, shouldering much of the new business that we have brought in and working hours far greater than we could ever have expected. We all hope that with the new additions to the team and a new structure in place in 2018, Carole will be able to find a bit more time for the garden!

A big thanks to Carole goes from everybody in the Firm.

Paddy and I are often swapping messages as to exactly where we are in the UK. In the last week of November, Paddy was representing clients in Braintree, whilst I was in Leek. The following day, Paddy went to Cardiff and I went to Westminster where we were delighted to obtain a new licence for Novus Leisure on Regent Street. Zig-zagging up the country has been part of our lives for the past 25 years and long may it continue!

We have at all times throughout this growth, maintained our core values of providing the best service possible to clients, with down to earth and pro-active advice. We are always seen as part of the client’s team as opposed to external advisors, and if we advise against one particular course of action we will always look for other opportunities for our clients. We always advise the client with their interests at heart, whether or not this is what the client wants to hear, and we maintain strong relationships with the responsible authorities with straightforward and clear negotiations and discussions with them. If we agree a compromise, it will be implemented, and if there are issues that we need to deal with, then they will be dealt with.

We fully expect that 2018 will continue in the same way and one of the great things for Paddy and me is to see the individuals within the Firm develop their own strengths and abilities. I think 2018 and onwards will be an interesting time for Licensing in the UK. The Mayor of London has repeatedly stated his desire for London to be more of a 24/7 City in terms of its appeal to the leisure market, and yet this is completely against Westminster’s own policy and the cumulative impact areas which create the presumption that no more licences will be granted.

Other areas of London, such as South Bank, Southwark and Shoreditch have seen wonderfully innovative licensed premises open up and there are some within Westminster who will be looking at these developments and perhaps hoping that some of these developments can come into Westminster. That will be extremely difficult given the current policy and of course, this principle applies not just to Westminster but to other major cities with cumulative impact areas.   A great deal of my work is in Westminster and around the Leicester Square areas and we have seen a large number of late night clubs close down in the last 10 years, which have not been replaced by similar venues. I wonder if now is the time to look at the principle of cumulative impact/stress areas and have a rethink. This is not to say that it should be an open page for all new licences to be granted. The Licensing Act 2003 maintains the principle that all applications should promote the licensing objectives and even in areas in which there is no cumulative impact policy, applications can be refused if relevant negative evidence is brought to the attention of the Licensing Committee.

The lack of a cumulative impact area gives the Licensing Committee more discretion but does not in my view necessarily create a free for all. I have also long been of the view that, if cumulative impact areas were introduced in November 2005 due to the number of licensed premises in an area, then surely it is appropriate to now look at the number of licensed premises currently in place and to see how that compares to 2005. If the UK is to continue to be a major player in the European leisure market, then maybe it is time for a reassessment. How can these new concepts and ideas open up if there is a policy of no more licences except in exceptional circumstances?

I would like to wish everybody, on behalf of Woods Whur, a very happy Christmas and New Year and we hope that 2018 is a happy and successful time for everyone..