At last count there were more than 200 of these zones across England and Wales and they are mainly in city centres.
So the news that Islington Council’s licensing authority, in north London, has adopted a special, borough-wide policy with a rebuttable presumption that applications for licences and variations for selling alcohol for consumption off premises will normally be refused, might be met with a mixed reaction by operators.
If you run a wet-led pub, you may well see this new policy as giving you some much-needed protection against supermarkets and off-licences selling discounted alcohol; something the trade has been battling with for a few years now. And any moves to redress this balance – along with reducing the opportunities for people to ‘pre-load’ before venturing out – is certainly welcome news for a great many operators.
But if this new off-sales cumulative impact policy proves successful in meeting Islington’s objectives, could it be the first of many such policies? And if so, could this stifle innovation in the sector?
It’s important to stress that many pubs and licensed premises already have licences allowing for alcohol to be consumed off the premises, often beer gardens, patios and other external drinking areas. It has to be assumed that the policy is not directed at such premises but out and out ‘offies’.
If not, it could create a situation, for example, where an existing pub is refused an application to create a beer garden or terrace area based purely upon the off-licence policy.
I am confident common sense will prevail, but it does highlight the rather blurry distinction between hitherto disparate types of licensed premises. Publicans and licensees have long since been prepared to innovate to reflect the ever-changing needs of their customers, whether it is embracing new technology to help with marketing promotions, opening for movie nights or even adding microbreweries to give pub-going customers something special and stand out from the crowd.
Take the example of craft-beer bottle shops that offer customers both drink-in and takeaway services; at least two of which have opened near me recently.
There is also a chain of premium wine cafés that offers something similar, where many of the wines that are available to consume on the premises are also available to purchase for consumption off the premises.
This particular aspect of their business model is central to their offer. Lastly, what about publicans wanting to tap in to the home-delivery market?
The policy acknowledges possible exemptions for florists providing Champagne or cheese shops selling wine to accompany cheese, for example, but the range of ‘off-licences’ selling alcohol which are unlikely to add to cumulative impact is much wider than those with a romantic or turophile (look it up) bent.