Posted on

Securing An Exception To Policy Exceptionally Difficult Nowadays

Many Local Licensing Authorities have Cumulative Impact Zones (“CIZs”), known as “stress areas”, where there is a perceived clustering of licensed premises. If you are looking at taking a site in one of these, beware – you may experience considerable difficulty in getting the licence you want.

CIZs form part of an Authority’s Statement of Licensing Policy, if it has decided to adopt one or more of these, generally following a case in favour being presented by Police. Generally speaking, there will be a presumption, if objections are received, against granting new premises licences or material variations to premises licenses, such as increases in hours or capacity. You should check the precise terms of the CIZ, however – one that I came across recently, for instance, does not apply to hotel bars.

Whilst this presumption against grant is rebuttable, this can prove tricky to achieve, because you’ll need to establish that your application is truly exceptional, such that it deserves to be made the subject of a departure from policy.

In the early days of the Licensing Act, I remember cases where operators secured licences in stress areas by arguing that the premises would be well managed and run, or that they were reputable outfits operating other, similar sites without problems. However, Licensing Authorities have wised up to such attempts, and some have even amended their policies to include express wording that those matters will not justify an exemption being made.

In my experience, it is getting harder and harder to get a licence granted in a stress area. One recent case in Westminster involved a casino business that had been in existence for years, trading 24 hours a day. The vast majority of the premises was already covered by various licences for alcohol sales, entertainment and gambling, either round the clock or, in the case of alcohol sales, from 10am to 6am the following morning.

The application was for a very small coffee-shop area on the first floor – big enough only for four tables with four chairs each, which was already licensed for late night refreshment (the provision of hot food and drink between 11pm and 5am), to enable entertainment to be staged and alcohol sold there. The facility would not be advertised or promoted in any way and was not designed to attract new customers in. Rather, the aim was simply to provide an enhanced experience for existing customers seeking a break from gaming on the adjacent casino floor.

Government policy actively encourages such “break-out” areas and the application was for permission until 2am, much earlier than the rest of the building. Police and Environmental Health objected, even though they conceded that the premises had no history of any trouble – and Westminster’s own policy acknowledges that levels of alcohol consumption at casinos are very low.

This application, you might think, had “exceptional” written all over it. We did get the licence granted, but only following a tough hearing. Proof that getting anything in a CIZ is a tough ask.