Coulson: Ban squaeezes pubs between a rock and a hard place

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Smoking ban, Law, License

Coulson: Ban squaeezes pubs between a rock and a hard place
MA legal editor considers the legal implications of the smoking ban

It was only last August that I highlighted the terrible squeeze that has been placed on licensees trying to combat the smoking ban.

Now comes news that yet another licensee has fallen foul of the local planning department in his attempt to provide accommodation of some kind for smokers.

This is not something that the relevant government department seems to have taken into account.

The Greater Good — outlawing smoking in enclosed public spaces — was going to have some casualties, and it is clear that the licensed trade was considered expendable in this regard.

The main problem, as I pointed out last year, is that planning laws exist to protect and preserve the integrity of the environment in which we all live. That may sound high-falutin', but many of us will be the first to complain when a neighbour puts up some monstrosity that we do not like, or blocks our view, or tries to knock down part of an historic street or building.

In the case of pubs, you do not need my good friend and colleague Roger Protz to tell you that they are part of our heritage — and that although they are under continuing threat from a seemingly unsympathetic Government, they are still much prized in local communities.

So there is a constant battle between the planners in local government and entrepreneurial licensees, who want to make changes or add to the structure.

Many pubs are listed buildings — a fact presenting even greater problems when it comes to alteration. Although not adopted as part of any induction course I have ever seen, some knowledge of planning law is an integral element of what a new licensee needs to know when he takes over a pub. Some aspects he should be taught include the planning process, presenting a case, appeals and how to discuss proposals with the authorities to achieve the best result.

Even householders — and certainly developers — know that you cannot just stick up a new structure and expect to get no reaction. Which makes it all the more surprising that so many hosts express astonishment that anyone should take exception to their unilateral decision to place a large, semi-permanent structure in the middle of their car park.

This is part of the long-standing belief within certain sectors of the licensed trade that you never contact the authorities unless it is absolutely necessary, or they come to you. Being proactive, it is claimed, often lands you in trouble. So avoid trouble. Just don't tell anybody.

This is, of course, a recipe for disaster, which is when people start moaning to the press. Of course, the smoking ban has created major problems for the trade. But even those companies who are busily marketing smoking shelters, tents and canopies to the trade have a pretty good idea of the law in this area and know that permission may well be required. If you turn a deaf ear to what they say, you only have yourself to blame.

This is not to say that there is not a tremendous amount of sympathy for those licensees, particularly in town centres, who have literally nowhere to go for that necessary smoking shelter to retain their customers. They need — and deserve — a degree of leniency when it comes to planning laws.

They do not always get it, of course, and these are the stories that make the headlines. But I have heard other stories of certain authorities who acknowledge the problem and are trying to find ways round it. But burying your head in the sand is no way to deal with such an important aspect of a law that applies to every pub in the land.

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