Seated in the committee room not long after they had escaped any stringent conditions being added to the Duke of York’s premises licence, the couple were still trying to comprehend how it ever got to this stage.
“We felt that we could have negotiated [with the council],” said Sickelmore. “Now we are worried whenever a glass breaks or somebody raises a voice. It has caused us unnecessary stress.”
Numerous visits to the pub have been made by licensing officers over the past two years in response to complaints about drinkers outside at the Rathbone Street premises.
Photos were taken of the pub from the Rathbone Hotel opposite, which would go on to be used as evidence to support the subsequent review ordered on the Duke of York.
After instruction by Westminster licensing officer David Wood, Monks and Sickelmore had agreed to use barriers and a steward in a high-visibility jacket to control the number of outdoor drinkers so that they did not obstruct pedestrians.
However, a licence review was sought when the barriers in use were not deemed to leave enough room for wheelchair users to pass and there was little evidence of an employee in a high-visibility jacket supervising the customers.
The level of outrage about the review was apparent from the written representations of 15 local residents, the majority of whom were in attendance at last week’s hearing, with two volunteering to voice their support for the pub in front of the licensing committee.
Sickelmore first met Monks in 1986 when she was managing the famous Marquis of Granby, a stone’s throw from the Duke of York, where they have been Greene King tenants for the past eight years.
“We used to have seven picnic benches outside and the council never bothered us,” says Sickelmore, as she reflects on her time at the Marquis. “We never had to pay for any fees or have a licence for that.”
Fast-forward 25 years and Westminster City Council is asking pubs to put onerous measures in place to try and get drinkers off the streets — albeit with little success.
The Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s recent intervention in its dealings with the Newman Arms, also on Rathbone Street, led to the council having to clarify that a review would not be ordered should licensee Tracy Newman fail to “slow down” service and close the pie room upstairs.
Nevertheless, there is a feeling that something new and unsavoury is occurring in London’s West End.
Monks reflects: “If you look around the area in general, Marylebone has been sanitised to a degree, Soho has been cleaned up and is not like it used to be, and now it looks as though, for whatever reason, they are looking north of Soho.”
Sickelmore, who is the chairperson of the Licensed Trade Charity’s London & Home Counties Fundraising Committee, added: “There is a need for some pubs to have this sort of control, but we are professional publicans so we can see the issues, and seek to address the problems of our own volition.”
Sickelmore also revealed that the pub scored 94% on a mystery shopper visit on the same day it won its review case.
Perhaps this will make Westminster City Council realise that negotiation is the best way forward, especially when it comes up against experienced pub operators in the mould of Monks and Sickelmore.
The PMA's view
Long before a decision was reached, the sight of a dozen or so Duke of York regulars turning up to support their local was somewhat humbling. Indeed, such was the strength of feeling among those in attendance, two residents from a building situated only five metres from the pub stood up to put their case forward — full credit to Richard Keczkes and Verity Youlden.
It was clear to almost everyone in the room that Debi Sickelmore and Alan Monks are responsible pub operators who would not intentionally cause any public nuisance or a threat to public safety.
They made efforts to deal with the issues raised by licensing officer David Wood, as was recognised by the chair of the licensing committee.
With the matter all but resolved as a result of negotiations outside the committee room, it really does beg the question why these two experienced publicans were ever dragged through the nightmare of a licence review.