Reviewed and rebalanced

The Government has agreed to give local authorities and the public more power when it comes to licensing. Philip Day, a licensing solicitor at Horsey Lightly Fynn and vice president of the National Outdoor Events Association, assesses new reforms…

Over the last couple of days, I have learnt the following lessons: A week is indeed a long time in politics; no matter how lost a cause appears to be, it is sometimes worth fighting; politicians and even the Home Office do sometimes listen; but if you dig hard enough, you will always find the bad news.

As I pen this article, less than a week has gone by since I made a presentation at NOEA’s AGM and Regional Conference in High Wycombe about the Government’s proposals to rebalance the licensing act and how (once again), the determination of politicians to try and curb the British culture of binge drinking could have some pretty devastating effects for the event industry but particularly the outdoor event industry.

The proposals were worrying, particularly those relating to Temporary Event Notices (TEN’s) – only one beer tent or cider seller at an event, only 12 temporary event notices a year for anyone, longer notice periods and more bureaucracy. For this reason, NOEA was one of many organisations that responded to the consultation, pointing out how its members would be affected.

What a difference a week has made.

For once, it appears that somebody that matters has listened. Not only have the proposed restrictions been abandoned but by and large the rules relating to TEN’s have been relaxed.

In emergencies, council’s will be able to accept TEN’s with five (working) days notice instead of the current 10. Each notice can last for a week instead of the present 96 hours and the total number of days that can be covered in a year goes up from 15 to 21. Gone is any suggestion of restricting the number of TEN’s that can be given for any one particular event so a county show for example can still have a member’s enclosure, beer tent and various stall holders selling or raffling drinks.

The bad news is that the environmental health officer will now be able to object a TEN as well as the police so potential noise problems could become an issue.

Actually, there is more bad news too. At the moment, if individuals want to object to a licence application (or ask for a licence to be reviewed), they have to live near the premises. That requirement will disappear so that anyone who lives in the licensing authority’s area will have a right to object.

To give an example, I live in Ringwood, on the edge of the New Forest but my firm’s offices are in Bournemouth and Oxford. I will therefore be able to object to any licensing application made anywhere in the New Forest Council area, Bournemouth Borough or Oxford City but not in East Dorset’s area or Christchurch, both of which are rather closer to home than even Lyndhurst on the eastern edge of the forest.

The danger here is that campaigners who will not personally be affected by an event will take the opportunity to “make a point” meaning that far more applications will end up at a hearing. This in turn will cause delays, uncertainties and increase costs for event organisers.

The Government has also backed down on a proposal to make public health a licensing objective but the local NHS Trust will now have to be notified of any licensing application.  If this proposal makes it into the eventual act, event organisers can expect to be asked not only to pay for policing but ambulance services in future.

The bill contains much more which could radically change the night-time economy of town and city centres – councils could force all premises selling alcohol to shut their bars at midnight or force them to pay a “late night levy.”

At first sight the event industry appears to have escaped lightly and I would like to think that all the time that was spent in responding to the original consultation was time well spent.

Whether that turns out to be the case remains to be seen – the devil as always is in the small print. That includes revised national guidance to the effect that councils should give greater weight to anything the police have to say and my favourite: “Applicants will be required to provide contextual information on issues such as the local area’s social-demographic characteristics, specific local crime and disorder issues and an awareness of the local environment.”

If anyone out there can translate that into English, I would be delighted to hear from you but in the meantime, Happy New Year everybody!