Protecting the pubs’ interests

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New premises licence Patent Westfield stratford city

Peter Coulson: 'New licences can work against pubs' interests'
Peter Coulson: 'New licences can work against pubs' interests'
Trade protection has a very different meaning these days from the time when licensed victuallers associations (LVAs) were a dominant force in the industry. Now it tends to mean preserving the pub from extinction by outside forces.

Time was when the justices were charged with meeting the ‘needs’ of the district, so an additional licence could be challenged by those already in the trade on the grounds that it was not required. The new Licensing Act replaces all of that with a set of requirements including licensing objectives.

The only relic of the past, it seems, is now cumulative impact areas where the local authority considers that there are enough licensed premises in one area and any more would have an adverse effect on the licensing objectives.

Applicants for a new premises licence, therefore, have to consider these factors rather than trade objections. They need to ensure the licence they gain at the end of the day is not so ringed round with conditions that it is not suitable for the operation they envisage.

This is why a great deal of preparation work needs to go into a licence application even before the application process itself begins. Operators need to know what sort of opposition they are going to face, and be prepared to compromise on some aspects of the operation if they come up against fierce residential or environmental health objections.

Everyone would like a licence to be given the thumbs-up without a single objector, and then it would go forward ‘on the nod’. But that rarely happens in certain parts of the country, unless the homework and planning have been exceptional. In Westminster, for example, it never happens!

I am put in mind of this because of the comments of publicans near Westfield Stratford City and the Olympic sites that the huge shopping centre ‘pulled a fast one’ by popping in an application for a time-limited licence just before the Christmas break.

It is perfectly true that a licence application can be lodged at any time, but in terms of eligibility, only on a weekday, when it can
be ‘received’ by the licensing authority concerned.

Then there is a requirement to post a notice on the premises, where it can be ‘conveniently’ read from the exterior of the premises (i.e. the public highway) for a period of not less than 28 consecutive days (this includes Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays in this instance).

The applicant also has to place a similar notice in a local newspaper within 10 ‘working’ days, starting on the day after the day on which the application was given to the authority.

This, over the Christmas and new year period, can have the effect of extending the period before the ad actually appears well into January, so effectively shortening the time for news of the application to filter through to the public and other interested parties that have not directly received the application itself.
But if representations are made during this shorter period, and they are not merely frivolous or vexatious (which might apply these days to a simple trade objection), the authority is bound to entertain them and hold a hearing, although whether this would affect the eventual outcome is doubtful.

It is true that local businesses are perfectly entitled under the Licensing Act to make representations against the granting of a licence, but it must be under one or more of the licensing objectives, so that usually means disorder, public nuisance or public safety.

That would be difficult in the case of Westfield and similar applications. It may be more prudent to keep quiet and hope for a trade boost when the hordes arrive for the Olympics.

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