1. I start with the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (“the Bill”), which contains provisions to make the temporary Business & Planning Act legislation in relation to the use of the highways permanent. This is a fantastic idea, extremely sensible and helpful to business.
The existing legislation is old and opaque, and some Councils insist on planning permission and a pavement licence which is, frankly, classic bureaucratic duplication. Sometimes both of these permissions have to be renewed every 6 months or yearly, and there can be massive fees when it is based on the number of tables and chairs for a large external area, sometimes over £7,000.
2. More general rebalancing measures which could help the trade, including levies.
These were introduced at the height of the perceived imbalance of enforcement in relation to the trade and have never really been taken up.
Always controversial and sometimes not really raising the money they were supposed to, which was to make the late-night trade pay more proportionately towards matters such as policing when they were most responsible for issues late at night.
Several local authorities, including Southampton and Chelmsford have removed theirs and Nottingham are looking to review, and I think it would send an important message to the trade in these areas that their contribution to the late-night economy is welcome.
3. Similarly, Cumulative Impact Policies; there has not been a general re-writing of these, but a sporadic approach. Some have effectively lapsed because now there is a statutory evidential test and a requirement to review every three years.
There is no doubt that these are, when enforced strictly, a barrier to development in the town and city centres where they apply.
Also, with high streets struggling and retail units closing, the hospitality industry must be in a position to fill some of the gaps and encourage greater footfall in town and city centres.
I did have a discussion with a Licensing Officer about these two points and he asked me if the Levy put off new operators and I said no, definitely not. If an operator intends to invest a lot of money in a site having to pay an extra few thousand will not be significant, but certainly Cumulative Impact Policies do make operators reconsider.
If the money can only be spent on one site and two are available with one in a Cumulative Impact Area, then the operator may look at the other on the basis that the authorities will be more welcoming, any premises licence will be easier and cheaper to obtain and have more favourable hours and conditions.
I do think that more city and town centres need to look at these and see their removal not as some sort of return to a free-for-all, but a positive step in encouraging more vibrancy to the local economy both daytime and night-time.
4. The fourth point which I do think is slipping under the radar is the local authorities themselves. There has been under-funding over a long period of time, but with the pandemic as well we are finding that in some areas licensing officers are struggling to cope with the work. There has been a trend prevalent in the public sector and indeed the private sector to rely on email rather than telephone calls, be directed by an automated telephone call to a website and this is true of licensing.
It is very important that when representing operators we achieve dialogue with a licensing officer to ask questions about the area etc, and also that the administration of licences is done efficiently. We are sadly finding that both of these are slipping a little bit which is not good for the industry generally.