Coulson: Making a mockery of the Licensing Act

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cumulative impact Law Brighton Dcms

Coulson: Making a mockery of the Licensing Act
MA legal editor Peter Coulson considers cumulative impact zones

In this country we were always taught about "the letter of the law", meaning that the statutes passed by parliament, as our representatives, were binding on all of us, no matter who we were.

In the past generation, however, the basic integrity of those statutes has to some extent been undermined by a different approach - the Act, instead of merely stating the law, gives powers to other bodies or individuals to issue supplementary legal provisions or regulations which also have legal force.

In some cases, the decisions on what is or is not legal have also been delegated.

Perhaps one of the worst examples of this in practice has been cumulative impact areas.

Look for any reference to these in the Licensing Act 2003. You will not find them. Look for any reference to a power for councils to refuse to entertain licence applications. There is none. Yet cumulative impact is part of the law. Why?

Because the published Guidance from the Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) specifically describes and creates them, in spite of the fact that the Act clearly states that the Guidance to councils should be "on the discharge of their functions under this Act".

If they have no statutory function to create cumulative impact areas, stress areas and the like, then they should not be allowed to do so.


It makes a mockery of having a licensing structure in the first place, because it means a non-elected body such as the DCMS can actually add to the law, in addition to parliament.

So you can guess that I am less than pleased about the news from Brighton, where an inordinately large and totally indefensible cumulative impact area has now been re-named into a smaller central location but with two additional "special stress areas" which cover exactly the same total area as before!

Brighton is proud to announce that these are the first in the country. They may not have been up to the West End recently, but Westminster have been re-inventing the Licensing Act since day one, and have stress areas in several places already.

No legal basis

In my view, none of them has any legal basis, but tell that to the hundreds of London licensees who have suffered as a result.

The DCMS, having set the trend, can hardly complain if local councils jump on the inventive bandwagon.

But licensees in these areas of Brighton may well be wondering what is in store for them, with the announcement of "robust measures to counter public disorder and nuisance", which, as far as I am aware, has not actually occurred in the outer regions of this huge swathe of the city, and which is why they could not legitimately embrace it into a cumulative impact zone in the first place.

What worries me most is guilt by association. Will the licensing authority in Brighton actually treat these outer areas in the same way as the central one?

What will happen if anyone dares to put forward a licence application? Will the committee seek to invoke the Guidance on their extra "powers" and purport to refuse it outright, because the applicant has not proved that it will not impact on crime and disorder?

It is going to be very difficult for councillors to shut their minds to the cumulative impact provisions, or to avoid giving the new stress areas credibility.

And doubtless the police, who put up the idea in the first place, will be the first to raise objections to any new licence, on the grounds that it might add to the "stress".

It is not a happy situation.

Related topics Licensing law

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