Beware the hazards of street-drinking ban

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Related tags: Local authority, License, Local government, Official

The subject of outside tables and chairs has once again featured in my postbag, with the prospect of another good summer. It is clear that with some...

The subject of outside tables and chairs has once again featured in my postbag, with the prospect of another good summer. It is clear that with some councils under pressure to expand their street-drinking bans, there are those in the trade who are still finding the issue of where you put your summer tables and chairs something of a struggle. For many years there has been a fairly relaxed attitude taken locally about how pubs extended their area of operation, including use of areas outside the pub, and even across the road, on river banks and picnic spots. But more recently, local authorities have become much more pernickety about street space, especially when they can see a financial return to the council. Some police forces, I understand, are highlighting the problem too, seeing potential disorder in uncontrolled drinking away from the regulation of the licensed premises. Many towns and cities already have a licensing system of their own in operation, which permits tables and chairs to be placed on a designated part of the highway, as long as the site owner is prepared to pay an annual fee to the council. This does not only affect pubs; other traders providing facilities to the public may also need a licence. But there are numerous examples of traders who blithely extend their operations in complete ignorance of the fact that they may be encroaching on other people's property. There is also a widespread attitude that if you do it and don't get warned by an official, then it must be all right! But there may be an added problem now. What happens if your pub is in an area where there is a street-drinking ban? For some city-centre licensees, the introduction of a council bylaw prohibiting street drinking in certain areas will need some careful study. In the 2001 legislation that introduced the police powers of on-the-spot closure, the power to make street-drinking orders was made simpler for councils to impose. Indeed, the statistics show that more and more councils are taking this opportunity, concentrating in the main on shopping complexes and areas where young people are known to congregate. But this can in some cases have a considerable knock-on effect on the licensed trade. What may not be widely known is that any council considering a ban has a statutory duty to consult first with any licensee who is affected. It can do this either by sending a letter to each licensee or consulting a trade organisation in the town. So what are the points to watch out for if you suspect that an alcohol drinking order is in the offing? I repeat the tips I gave last year, which are still highly relevant: 1. Make enquiries from your local authority or trade association to see if any designated area has already been proposed. 2. If you are in that area, obtain a full plan of your premises and see how far the "curtilage" of your building extends and where it joins the highway. This may not always be apparent. 3. Assess the area which will require special permission from the local authority for tables and chairs or benches. 4. Approach the local authority early but don't rely on the telephone or verbal communication. Put in a written request so that your requirements are on record. 5. Be prepared to negotiate. As long as no major obstruction is involved, there should be no compelling reason why the council cannot allow the tables to be positioned on part of the highway. But there has to be some give and take on both sides.

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