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Getting a licence back following a review – A mountain to climb?

A case I’ve been involved n recently has served to demonstrate quite how hard it can be to turn the tide if you’re unlucky enough to lose your licence as a result of a review under the Licensing Act.

The premises – a convenience store in a residential area – had its licence reviewed at the instigation of the Police just over a year ago. Police said it was a focus for antisocial behaviour. Youths were hanging around outside, drinking, smoking cannabis, fighting and intimidating passers-by. A large number of local residents had complained to the authorities, and to the owner, who had declared himself unable to do anything to address the problem. The Safer Neighbourhood Team had become involved, and had placed dealing with these issues on its Action Plan. In addition, the premises had made an underage sale to a 15 year old girl and a police officer visiting the premises alleged that he had witnessed a sale being made to an intoxicated individual.

Police asked the Licensing Committee to revoke the licence outright, on the basis that other steps taken to resolve these matters amicably had failed. They had no confidence that other measures, such as imposing conditions on the licence, would work. In the alternative, they suggested a large number of licence conditions as a last resort.

We became involved when we were instructed to apply to get the licence reinstated. The proposed Designated Premises Supervisor was different to previously, a certain amount of work had been done to improve security at the premises, such as the CCTV system, and, largely due to the efforts of the police, there was no longer a problem of antisocial behaviour in the area. The operator had waited a full year before reapplying and was proposing implementing further improvement measures, such as installing additional lighting on the shop front and removing posters and other obstructions from the window, were the licence to be granted.

We recommended that the application include a large number of conditions – all of those sought by the police previously as an alternative to revocation, together with some new ones, and that the applicant try to get as much support from the local community as possible. Sadly, whilst more than 150 local residents did sign a petition in support of the application, several local residents did object to it, and a substantial number signed a petition against.

The Police and Licensing Authority put in strenuous representations against the application. Their take on the situation was that the antisocial behaviour problem had abated, and the only thing that had changed in the area was the removal of this premises’ alcohol licence. It followed, they said, that if the licence were reinstated, the problems would return.

The Licensing Committee considered that they should rely on the Police as the best source of advice on crime and disorder and, whilst they took on board the various things that the applicant said he would do differently in the future, they were not prepared to grant the licence at this stage.

The one positive thing to arise from the hearing process, though, was that it gave a chance for meaningful dialogue between the applicant and the Police. As a result it is now clear that, if the applicant engages with the Police and local community, for example getting the Police to visit to see the various improvements to the premises as he carries them out, attends local community meetings and liaises with the Safer Neighbourhood Team, there is a real chance that a future licence application will go through unopposed.

As a result, the operator is in a far better position in terms of laying the ground for getting his licence back and I am optimistic that he is well on the way to restoring the confidence of both the authorities and his neighbours.

Another thing to bear in mind is that representations about licence applications do not necessarily have to be negative! If you have support for your application in the local community, you should harness that by asking people to make representations in support during the 28 day consultation period. Individual and personal letters are best, but even signatures on a petition or a pro-forma letter will carry some weight.