Westminster City Council charges over £1,000 for advice on licence applications

By Adam Pescod

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: License, Westminster

Putting a price on advice: Westminster Council is now charging for pre-application advice for new licences
Putting a price on advice: Westminster Council is now charging for pre-application advice for new licences
Westminster City Council has been slated as “short-sighted” for introducing fees rising to more than £1,000 for advice on licence applications.

It is understood to be the first local authority to charge for pre-application guidance, which is sought by people looking to open new licensed premises, as well as those acting for them.

But there are now fears other councils will follow suit and introduce similar fees for licensees in other parts of the country.

Westminster said it had introduced the new charges to cover the cost of processing pre-applications, as well as the time that its councillors currently spend on giving advice.

Advice on a small application, which will take up a maximum of two-and-a-half hours of officer time, will cost £178.

The cost will rise to £518.50 for a medium application with a maximum of seven-and-a-half hours of officer time and a site visit by either an environmental health officer or a licensing district surveyor, or both.

Large applications, which involve multiple site visits, will cost £1,144.50.

Leading figures in the pub industry have criticised the move, believing it places yet another unnecessary burden on the trade.

Kate Nicholls, strategic affairs director for the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), said: “We are extremely surprised and disappointed by this short-sighted move.

“Pre-application discussions are invaluable for all sides to get an understanding not only of intent but also what sides are looking for as an outcome. To charge the equivalent of the annual licensing charge for this will act as a deterrent and these benefits will be lost.

“The trade simply cannot afford to pay Rolls-Royce prices unless it is getting a Rolls-Royce service — responsive, flexible and supportive of an industry that is the second largest employer in the borough, a major wealth creator and tourism provider.”

British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said advice of this sort should be part of the service and covered by existing licence fees — as is the case with the vast majority of local authorities.

“We are concerned, as there is a clear implication from Westminster that those applying for a licence ought to be going down this route.

“This should not be necessary. We will certainly be expressing this view to Westminster.”

Jonathan Smith, managing partner at licensing law firm Poppleston Allen, acknowledged the move was legal, but raised concerns for licensees around the country.

“The bad news is this is the first one and where Westminster goes, others tend to follow,” said Smith. “It is the thin end of the wedge.”

Councillor Tony Devenish, cabinet member for public health and premises at Westminster, said it was “reasonable” for the council to
make a “modest charge” for pre-application advice.

“Westminster is the largest licensing authority in the country with 3,088 licensed premises and we are facing a continuing rise in applications. What is currently a free service can involve officers in hours of work, so some of that cost should be covered by business.

“Westminster has always enjoyed good relations with the licensed trade, and we will listen to its feedback to ensure this system is practically implemented.”

The council said that it plans to review the system after six months.

Related topics: Licensing law, Health & safety

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