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Spring 2016 – Much to Talk About for the Licensed Sector

There seems to be a significant amount to talk about at the moment in the licensing sector and leisure industry, with significant changes afoot. Spring is always an exciting time but this year is unusual in that we have seen a very productive start to the year. January to March 2016 have been busy….significantly busier than recent years. Operators seem keen to refurbish, ask for longer hours and we have seen an unprecedented rise in requests for new licences. Is the casual dining bubble coming to maturity? Is 2016 the year of the independent operator? How do you counter balance Cumulative Impact Policies with the desire of quality operators to come to where the night time economy is booming? A great time to be involved in the leisure industry.

One of those key changes will be the introduction of the national living wage and Anna Mathias has written an article on this change and how it could potentially impact in to the leisure sector. One thing is for certain, it is causing a significant raising of eyebrows and assessment of its potential impact. Time will only tell as to how this will affect the industry.

Another change which came in to effect on 6 April 2016 could have major implications. This is the amendment to class O (changing offices to dwellings) of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015.

Amongst other things the main effect of this amendment will be that planning authorities will have to consider noise impact on new residents from existing licensed premises (and other businesses) when they consider new proposed residential developments.

These new regulations will mean that property developers will be required to seek approval on noise impact before a planning authority will change the use from office to residential building. This is a step in the right direction for a significant number of areas. I recently undertook an application for a fabulous new set of premises in Leeds called Archies run by Ossett Brewery. During the application before the licensing authority a number of residents objected to the granting of the licence (in former licensed premises). It was a breath of fresh air to hear one of the councillors on the committee ask the question of a residential neighbour complainant as to why they chose to live in the centre of Leeds surrounded by bars and restaurants and then complain about their impact. It has long been the case that the resident in these areas tends to take priority. It is a welcome development that the amendment to Class O applications now creates a burden on developers to demonstrate that such noise sensitive residential proposals will not be exposed to a high level of noise from existing, authorised licensed premises which have not caused difficulties/compromised the public nuisance licensing objectives previously.

What developments with the EMRO and the Late Night Levy? The most recent authority to look at an EMRO was Hartlepool. Although the police were recommending an EMRO to the licensing authority in February of this year the licensing committee met and resolved not to impose an EMRO suggesting that the Safer Hartlepool Partnership would need to produce better evidence that an EMRO was warranted.

This is the latest knock to the Home Office introduction of the Early Morning Restriction Order which still has had a zero take up.

With regard to the Late Night Levy the most recent areas to look at the levy have been:-

Liverpool City Council who rejected the introduction of the levy having listened to representations from national and local operators they came to the conclusion that the introduction of the levy would not have a significant impact on the late night economy and rejected the introduction of the levy.

Gloucester City Council are in initial discussions about the introduction of the late night levy but are also considering a business improvement district as an alternative to the levy.

This comes on the back of Brighton and Hove deferring their consultation along with Camden. Again the take up of the Late Night Levy has not been what the Home Office would have expected when they introduced the measure. I think that the prescriptive procedure and perceived net benefit are significant hurdles to a greater take up.

The Home Office are clearly looking at this particular issue in that they have launched a “Modern crime prevention strategy”. Within the strategy they have a heading “Alcohol as a driver of crime”. In this document the Home Office highlight the potential for making late night levies more flexible and placing cumulative impact policies on a statutory footing (they are currently the creature of the Section 182 Guidance document). An interesting suggestion is a “Group review intervention power” which looks like a licensing authority would be able to consider licensing conditions for a group of premises to address issues in a specific area (an EMRO by another name name?). This document is a recent March 2016 document and is worth reading. The link to this document can be found below.

Interestingly, the Home Office contacted me recently after my article in which I was critical of the lack of statutory guidance as to summary reviews. I believe that the next issue of the Section 182 Guidance document will contain statutory guidance for the summary review procedure. This will be welcome to all who have to deal with them.

It looks like 2016 will continue to be an interesting year in relation to the regulatory framework of licensed premises. We will of course update any guidance / comment as soon as we are able to view further developments.