Licensing proposal

Fears pubs could become victims of council "public health creep"

By Oli Gross

- Last updated on GMT

Fears pubs could become victims of council "public health creep"

Related tags Public health License

Proposed new licensing guidance from Camden council has led to fears that pubs will become victims of an unprecedented “health creep” resulting in operators increasingly responsible for the well-being of customers.

The London borough is consulting on its new licensing policy, which includes a section on protecting and improving public health when considering new and existing licences.

'Cause for concern'

The draft states: “Although ‘protecting and improving public health’ is not currently a licensing objective, alcohol-related harm is a particular cause for concern in Camden. We will, therefore, always consider health-related harms where they are relevant to the promotion of the licensing objectives.

“Accordingly, when making representations, Public Health England will demonstrate a link between health concerns and the licensing objectives and may provide information such as ambulance call-outs and admissions to hospital specifically caused by alcohol.”

The council, which also operates a late-night levy, said it expected applicants “to consider the health impacts of their proposed activities in relation to the licensing objectives”.

This would include restricting special offers such as cheap shots; happy hours; buy one, get one free; aligning price with ABV; increasing seating to reduce intensive drinking; reducing the volume of music; and offering food in late-night venues.


Ken Wright, licensee of the late-night bar Phoenix Artist Club, said putting the “guilt” of health impacts on operators was unfair.

“It isn’t the responsibility of a licensee to consider the health impact of a product they sell, other than someone obviously drunk, any more than it’s a shop’s responsibility to stop a smoker buying cigarettes or someone overweight buying a Big Mac,” he said.

Ambulance call-outs and alcohol-related hospital admissions would be considered in licensing decisions under the proposal. 

Wright said he feared that licensees wouldn’t call emergency services if needed for fear of placing their business in jeopardy.

'Stealth health mission'

“It would seem health officials are now being offered direct access to the licensing process. This stealth health mission creep needs to be challenged,” he added.

Wright added that the policy was an example of inequality between local councils because nearby pubs in Westminster did not have the same conditions.

Jonathan Smith, partner at the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’​s (PMA) licensing specialist Poppleston Allen, said he had not seen anything so overt before in licensing proposals.

The British Beer & Pub Association said it planned to respond to the consultation.

'Too specific'

Chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “Powers under the licencing regime are rightly focused on dealing with issues in and around specific premises, such as public nuisance, crime and public safety. It is far too specific a tool to be effective in promoting wider public health objectives.”

Writing for the PMA online​, Paul Chase, director at CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol issues, said it was important that the Government had, for now, resisted calls to make health a licensing objective.

“Local authorities have now been given responsibility for ‘health and wellbeing’ and they are no doubt disappointed that health hasn’t been made a licensing objective,” he said.

But he said he expected many local health boards to use A&E statistics to object to applications, or enable police to do so.

“Reducing crime and disorder becomes a proxy for protecting health — a sort of public health objective by the back door,” he added.

Camden’s consultation runs to 28 July and can be viewed here.

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