'We want to work in partnership with councils and police'

By Peter Marks

- Last updated on GMT

'Nightclubs are part of the solution, not the problem'
'Nightclubs are part of the solution, not the problem'

Related tags: Late night, Chief executive

When the Licensing Act 2003 finally became law, it changed everything. Whilst I don’t intend to detail all the changes, it’s safe to say that while there are some positives, there are also many negatives which still need to be addressed.

As the chief executive of the country’s largest nightclub company, many thought that I wouldn’t like the act as it meant my businesses no longer had a monopoly of the post-midnight market.

To a certain extent that is true, but largely I believe that a well-invested high street that boasts a variety of offerings, both pre and post-midnight, is nothing but a good thing.

Nightclubs remain at the sharp end of licensing. They are usually the largest single premises in town, are the last stop on a night out and the majority of their customers are under the age of 30. It should not come as a surprise that they see more incidents than most.

It is strange then, that although I see less incidents than I did 30 years ago, we as an industry have more conditions on our licenses than ever before. Many of these - including polycarb glasses, ID Scan, Challenge 25 and surveillance - ended up becoming conditions first on the UK’s clubs, then were imposed on bars, then pubs.

Pressure

On the surface, handing decisions to councils sounds good. However, it does mean that decisions tend to be more politically motivated, both by party lines and the wider political agenda.

In practical terms, it means that a club which has existed in a town centre for 20 or 30 years can come under pressure from residents who almost certainly moved there knowing a late night venue already existed.

Most recently, the Permitted Development Rights legislation has allowed old offices above shops and bars in our town centres to be used for residential purposes, only for the new residents to then complain about the noise! 

With more people moving back into our town centres than ever before, this is becoming a real problem, especially in the capital and our larger cities.

Changing relationships

Police cutbacks have had a detrimental effect too. Having fewer clubs and bars on our high streets ultimately reduces the manpower which is needed to keep them safe.

As a late night operator, over the past few years we have found that our relationship with the police has changed. It has moved from being a partnership, where we work together to assess improvements, to a more one-sided relationship, where the law is used to review our licence.

We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. We urge councils and the other responsible bodies to work to make sure that existing late night leisure venues are given precedent over residential developments, perhaps through implementing a zoning system.

Statistics must be considered in the context of the venue’s capacity for us to move forward. If we don’t take capacity into account, we will doubtless end up with many small venues which will almost certainly not have the scale or policies in place - the status quo currently encourages the latter.

A balanced and invested town centre has a lot to offer, and is also part of the answer to the reducing retail arena. Yet the 2003 act has produced more uncertainty and risk for all licensees. 

The balance needs to be restored so that companies and individuals feel that it is right to continue to invest in their premises to the benefit of all.

Peter Marks is chief executive of the Deltic Group, which operates brands such as Pryzm, Liquid and Chicagos

Related topics: Other operators, Licensing law

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