Licensees have been told to breathe easy in the wake of reports that the government is planning a U-turn on the granting of extra pub hours.
Trade leaders believe revised guidance issued in mid-January marks little or no change from the original way councils were advised to consider applications.
Culture secretary Tessa Jowell has advised local authorities that there should be no general presumption in favour of lengthening licensing hours.
The Times, followed by the Daily Mail, claimed this week the wording of the updated guidance is the first sign that the government realises its new legislation went too far, too fast. But the British Beer & Pub Association believes there is no real change regarding the approach .
"The guidance is clear that the position will be exactly the same as before in that every case will be taken on its own merits," said BBPA spokesman Neil Williams. "There has never been a general presumption that hours should be later than before."
The M A's legal editor Peter Coulson added: "The wording has barely changed and hardly amounts to a U-turn. It is still the advice that staggered and longer trading hours reduces flashpoints on the streets. There is nothing in the revised guidance to say councils should not grant longer hours," he said. "Pubs across England and Wales already trade on hours agreed with local councils ."