Chelmsford levy approval could give other councils the green light

By Ellie Bothwell

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Late-night levy City Chelmsford

John Gaunt's Michelle Hazlewood: 'Chelmsford coming on board shows you don’t have to be a metropolis to warrant having a late-night levy'
John Gaunt's Michelle Hazlewood: 'Chelmsford coming on board shows you don’t have to be a metropolis to warrant having a late-night levy'
Chelmsford’s late-night levy approval could give other small towns and cities the green light to follow suit, licensing lawyers have warned.

The city’s council rubber-stamped proposals for the fee last week. It will be implemented on 1 November 2014 and apply to licensed premises that sell alcohol between 1am and 6am.

Poppleston Allen partner Clare Eames said the “surprising” decision from Chelmsford may make the levy “seem more attractive to other authorities”.

“Chelmsford was quite pivotal. When it was just Newcastle, small cities or large towns would have thought ‘well, they’re a big city with a well-established night-time economy’, but they may see themselves akin to Chelmsford.

“I think we will see one or two more levy consultations popping out of the woodwork,” she said.

Six councils have so far approved the late-night levy: Newcastle, Cheltenham, Islington, City of London Corporation, Nottingham and Chelmsford. Tameside, York and Southampton are consulting on the measure.

'Pack mentality'

John Gaunt partner Michelle Hazlewood agreed that Chelmsford’s approval is worrying news for the pub trade.

“There is that pack mentality. Chelmsford coming on board shows you don’t have to be a metropolis to warrant having a late-night levy.

“When councils can’t afford to empty the bins, you can see why [the levy] is still very enticing,” she said.

She added that councils are often more focused on the number of responses to late-night levy consultations than considering substantive comment.

“Someone can put forward a very well-thought-through representation, which is detailed, argued and considered, and it is not given the appropriate weight in the consideration process, because they’re more interested in looking at the statistics,” she said. “That’s not natural justice.”

However, she said Weymouth & Portland Council’s rejection of both a levy and an early morning restriction order (EMRO) last week  shows there is “still some good sense out there.”

Council decisions

Gareth Hughes, barrister and director of Jeffrey Green Russell, agreed there could be more levy consultations in the pipeline but said he is concerned that licensing authorities do not properly review the consultation process when coming to a decision on whether to implement the fee.

“The City of London recently voted to adopt one but without any consideration whatsoever of the extensive and negative response from local businesses and trade organisations,” he said.

“I attended the committee hearing and not at any time did they refer to the consultation process which they had carried out. I ask myself why bother with consultation at all if you simply ignore it when it comes to making the decision.”

A spokesman for City of London said: "The consultation was presented to the Licensing Committee and, as with any report, elected members considered this as a factor during the decision making process.”

Hughes said JD Wetherspoon’s recent announcement that it will vary the licences of its pubs to avoid paying the fee means authorities may have to accept that they will “spend tens of thousands of pounds bringing in a levy only to find they have only received the costs of the exercise.”

Eames, Hazlewood and Hughes said they would be surprised if there are any EMRO consultations.

Related topics Licensing law Health & safety

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