Legal Q&A: planning permission applications and 'ridiculous' licensing conditions

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

'Tidy up' on license: changing conditions may result in stricter rules
'Tidy up' on license: changing conditions may result in stricter rules
This week's legal Q&A looks at submitting planning applications and licensing conditions.

Variation applications

Q:​ I have bought a pub that I am going to refurbish internally, add a small extension for which planning permission has been granted and also I want to extend the terminal hour for the sale of alcohol on Fridays and Saturdays. I would like to start the work as soon as I can. There are a few residents around, but to save money and time I am planning to submit one variation application. Is this a good idea?

A: Probably not. I assume that you have purchased the premises because you are content with the existing operating hours, otherwise you have taken a big risk. In many areas it is not easy to obtain later hours, either because local authority policies are against it or because of the presence of residents. I note there are some residents here. If you want to start work promptly then you need permission by way of a structural variation (internal works and to add the extension for which you have planning) urgently.

It is not likely that residents will object to this, particularly as planning has been approved, but it is more likely that they will object to the later hours. The danger with a combined application is that local residents object to the whole variation, refuse to compromise with you and you have to go to a hearing for both parts of the application thus delaying the start of your works or that you do the works ‘at risk’ without the requisite permission. I have seen this happen in practice a number of times.

It is theoretically possible to amend the part of the application that deals with the later hours, but if the representation is not specific it will still be relevant and valid to the structural work. Some licensing officers are reluctant to tell residents their representation is no longer relevant simply because it has been addressed by the applicant changing the hours part of the variation.

I would strongly advise that if you are on a tight schedule for structural works, and the hours are not key, that you submit two applications, one for the structural work and one for the later hours despite the extra time and cost involved.

‘Ridiculous’ conditions

Q:​ I have been reading through my licence and it has 56 conditions on it, which is ridiculous. It is very hard to properly train my staff and a friend has advised that I submit a minor variation and get rid of most of them. Is this a good idea?

A: It sounds good! It is to the frustration of many that there are such a high number of conditions on so many premises licences and indeed many licensing officers do not regard it as good practice. However, there are risks involved in submitting a minor variation even ‘to tidy up’.

If your premises is sensitive in relation to local residents then some, if they see a notice, will probably make a representation in any event because they are naturally cautious as to what is proposed and their first thought is that you will want to extend or do more rather than simply ‘tidy up’. The other risk is that some of the responsible authorities will consider that in removing some of these conditions, you are not promoting the licensing objectives because they actually like them and indeed were possibly responsible for them being there in the first place.

Indeed, I have seen, on occasion, some responsible authorities will see this as an open invitation to replace outdated conditions with new ones, which, while more up to date, are indeed more restrictive so you end up in a worse position.

My advice would be that while clarity is highly commended, only if you are sure, looking at the history of the premises and possibly pre-consulting with some of the responsible authorities, should you embark on this exercise.

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