April 2017 has brought not only a raft of new forms for liquor licensing applications (see here) but has also seen the House of Lords Select Committee publish its report on the Licensing Act 2003.
Publicans who have the time and inclination may, with the assistance of a stiff drink, wish to read the whole report but here are a few of the ‘highlights’:-
- The Lords Select Committee concluded that the Licensing Act 2003 was fundamentally flawed and needs radical overhaul, including the abolition of local authority licensing committees.
- I doubt that many licensees will lose much sleep over the prospect of the abolition of licensing committees but the proposal is to transfer responsibility for liquor licensing to planning committees. Clients who have experienced the decision making process of local authority planning committees may not consider this would be a great leap forward. However, it would have the benefit of licensing and planning aspects being dealt with by one committee and this could avoid the present unsatisfactory position where the licensing committee often tries to consider planning aspects which are not part of its function.
- The magistrates’ courts presently deal with appeals from licensing committee decisions. There are very few appeals and the proposal of the Select Committee is that licensing appeals should be dealt with by the planning inspectorate. This will undoubtedly give rise to fears of delay as planning appeals can take many months to be processed.
- Previous changes to the Licensing Act 2003 introduced the ability for local authorities to impose a ‘late night levy’ to fund the additional cost of policing which is allegedly caused by late night premises. Only 9 local authorities have adopted the levy and in the opinion of the Lords Select Committee the system is flawed and should be abolished unless its shortcomings can be addressed.
- One recommendation which is unlikely to meet universal approval is the proposal for licensing fees to be set locally. The fear is that this will result in considerable disparity in fees between different local authorities and the suggestion that there should be a national cap on fees is unlikely to bring much solace if the experience of university admission fees is anything to go by which has simply resulted in most institutions raising their fees to the level of the cap.
Since the introduction of the Licensing Act in 2005 a myriad of changes have been introduced by various governments such that the original intention of the Act to enable a continental ‘bistro culture’ has disappeared from view and we are left with a legislative jigsaw puzzle. It seems inevitable that the Licensing Act 2003 will undergo major reform and it is only a matter of time. For advice in relation to any licensing matters contact Glyn Evans on 01934 637911 email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website.