A copy of Westminster’s policy review can be found here – https://www.westminster.gov.uk/sites/default/files/proposals_for_revision_of_slp_and_publication_of_cia_final_oct_2020_2.pdf
A copy of Westminster’s Cumulative Impact Assessment can be found here – https://www.westminster.gov.uk/sites/default/files/411_19_-_wcc_cumulative_impact_assessment_document_aw.pdf
Before we look at the detail of Westminster’s policy review and CIA here are some key dates for your diary:
- The consultation closes on Sunday 15 November 2020
- Westminster are holding an online question and answer session for local businesses on Monday 19 October 2020 from 5pm and you can sign up here – https://licensingconsultation2020-business.eventbrite.co.uk/
- Westminster are holding an online question and answer session for local residents on Monday 26 October 2020 from 4pm and you can sign up here – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/licensing-policy-review-qas-with-westminster-residents-tickets-125002354407
Having read this note you may or may not decide that you want to respond to the council’s consultation to make your views heard. The council are inviting responses in a number of ways:
- By the completion of an online survey. This can be accessed by following this link: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/CIAConsultation2020/; or
- By emailing your comments to a dedicated email address, which is email@example.com; or
- By sending* your comments to:
Licensing Policy Consultation
Policy Team – Innovation and Change
Westminster City Council
Westminster City Hall
64 Victoria Street
* The council ask that if you are sending your comments by post that you do so in good time to ensure that they are received by 15 November 2020. As 15 November 2020 is a Sunday and the council office is likely to be closed we think this means received by Friday 13 November.
“With an uncertain future and the difficulties that the hospitality and entertainment sector face, we were very aware that to implement significant change in our Licensing Policy could add to that uncertainty. Therefore, our proposed approach to this year’s revision is to continue with the current policy approach where possible. We believe that this will provide a stable policy background whilst maintaining the protections for our residents and enabling businesses to operate in a responsible way.”
Such a statement might lead you to conclude that not much is changing in Westminster. Do not be fooled. As always, the devil is in the detail and in this article we are going to look at some of the main changes and what we think they mean for Premises Licence Holders and prospective applicants in Westminster. They are summarised by the council as follows:
- Add a statement on the Licensing Authority’s expectation on licensed premises’ approach to inclusion in the evening and night-time economy
- A summary of the 2020 Cumulative Impact Assessment
- A revised policy framework for the Licensing Objectives Policies CD1, PS1, and PN1
- A revised Protection of Children from Harm Policy (CH1) framework and the addition of safeguarding as a key consideration within that policy.
- Retention of the existing West End Cumulative Impact Zone boundary, except for the North East area beyond Covent Garden, and to revise the policy framework for the Cumulative Impact Policy – CIP1
- The removal of the Cumulative Impact Zones for Edgware Road and Queensway/Bayswater
- A revised Core Hours Policy – HRS1 framework based on premises uses rather than licensable activities
- A new Special Consideration Zone Policy- SCZ1
- Revised policy framework for premises use policies and updates to policy narrative where necessary
- Removing qualifying clubs from the theatres, cinemas and other performance venues policy, and expanding the policy to include a wider variety of cultural venues and live sporting venues
- Creating a standalone policy for Qualifying Clubs
- Minor updates and changes across the statement to references to law, guidance or Council policies/strategies.
Having been through the proposal document in some detail we have picked out what we see as the major changes that operators need to be aware of:
- The creation of Special Consideration Zones (SCZs);
- A change to the Core Hours policy based upon premises “type”; and
- A far greater onus to be placed on applicants in the context of the documents they will be expected to submit with their applications.
Special Consideration Zones
Westminster haven’t decided to increase the size of their West End Stress Area (Cumulative Impact Zone). In fact, they have reduced it slightly by carving out a small area to the northeast of Covent Garden. However, Westminster have designated a large area surrounding the existing West End Stress Area (as well as a number of other areas) as a Special Consideration Zone.
Special Consideration Zones don’t exist in the context of the Licensing Act 2003 or its accompanying Guidance. They are something that have been created by Licensing Authorities to apply to areas where they are considering putting in to place a Cumulative Impact Area. Westminster seem to be taking that approach one step further by inviting applicants to attempt to address the issues identified in the Special Consideration Zones when making their application. Time will tell, but it seems to us that Westminster are imposing a higher standard on applications in these areas than would be required outside of them.
Changes to Westminster’s Core Hours Policy
This is actually quite a substantial change to Westminster’s approach to core hours. Currently, Westminster’s policy distinguishes between premises that offer alcohol for consumption on the premises, premises that offer alcohol for consumption off the premises, and premises that offer other licensable activities but not alcohol. It is known as HRS1 and sits alongside Westminster’s policies for different types of premises e.g. RNT1 & RNT2, which deal with restaurants.
Westminster will now be following a model that has been adopted by lots of other Licensing Authorities and applying core hours to particular “types” of premises rather than across the board. Applicants will now need to consider what they are at the time of applying and cut their cloth accordingly. One problem we have found with these types of policies in other areas is that premises don’t always fall neatly into the categories that Licensing Authorities want them to. We have acted for many operators up and down the country of what have become known “Competitive Socialising Venues” and we have found that Licensing Authorities often have great difficulty in categorising them. Operators are hugely innovative in their approach and it will not be long before someone comes along with something new and exciting and we expect councils, including Westminster, will continue to struggle with that.
Documents supporting licence applications
Reading through Westminster’s document we observed lots of references to documents they would like to see supporting licensing applications. Everything from safeguarding policies to fully fledged risk assessments at the time of application are mentioned. A concern that we have is the extent to which these documents will be demanded by Responsible Authority officers and therefore become a necessity when making an application. There is nothing overtly objectionable about doing a risk assessment before making a premises licence application but we can see errors or accidental omissions in risk assessments being pounced upon by those that would see applications refused.
Whether you are an existing premises licence holder in Westminster, or have designs on opening there in the not too distant future, we strongly recommend that you read Westminster’s licensing policy proposals and respond to the consultation as you see fit. Policy consultations give operators the chance to scrutinise a council’s plans before they come in to force. We often hear views about policies voiced after they have come into effect. This is a chance to express your views now. Make sure you use it.