Airing views on conditions

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing officer License Officer

Coulson: 'Minor variations can turn major'
Coulson: 'Minor variations can turn major'
My recent article about minor variations provoked a strong reaction among readers who have suffered their own problems and knock-backs when they have tried to make a small change to their premises licence.

I have even heard of one licensing district which basically does not entertain them at all. The licensing officer simply says ‘no’, rather like the computer in Little Britain. There is, regrettably, absolutely nothing you can do about that.

However, just as worrying is the tendency of certain responsible authorities to use the procedure as a door wedge to get extra conditions on to the licence.

One of the elements in the responses was that there can be a great deal of horse-trading between the licensing officer and the licensee or his representatives to agree to one or two ‘extra’ conditions to be added to the licence in order to facilitate the variation.

Now everyone knows about this. It is not unusual to offer conditions to ‘smooth the path’ of a particular relaxation. But those conditions have to be volunteered.

What cannot happen is for the licensing authority to insist on conditions before it will entertain the application. Nor should conditions be proposed on a completely different subject, simply because a minor variation application is on the table.

Yet this is exactly what happens, according to PMA readers. Suddenly, in the course of negotiations, either the environmental health department or the police will come up with some suggested conditions to add to the licence as a preventive measure, without any direct relevance to the variation itself.

It might be CCTV, or plastic glasses. It could be an entertainment restriction, or a requirement to keep doors and windows shut. Nothing is proposed which requires these measures. But they are put in — sometimes at the last minute — and the licensee often feels obliged to accept in order to get what he wants.
This is specifically frowned on by the statutory Guidance, so it clearly has been brought to the attention of the Government at some stage.

The Guidance states, in relation to volunteered conditions: “However, this route should only be used where the agreed variations are minor and the licensee and the responsible authority have come to a genuine agreement.

“The licensing authority should be alive to any attempts to pressure licensees into agreeing to new conditions where there is no evidence of a problem at the premises and, if there is any doubt, should discuss this with the relevant parties.”

I wonder how many licensing officers have read that section — and if they have, whether they take it on board. From what I am picking up, that is too frequently not the case.

Licensing officers have a major responsibility in this area and should not be pressured themselves into any form of horse-trading on conditions, simply because another department of their authority thinks it is a good idea.

In particular, the police have a long history of using ‘suggested’ conditions as a way of gaining something from the licensing process.

This is nothing new: I can well remember it happening just before hearings in front of the licensing justices, to the effect that “we will not object if you agree to this page of conditions, including contributing to CCTV in the town centre.”

For some operators in city hot-spots, this is part and parcel of the business of running a pub. But for less high-profile licensees it does not seem appropriate to turn what was intended as a low-cost, simple procedure into a kind of conditional lottery, so that you have to second-guess the authorities as to which way they will jump.

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