Commons Gate

The Evening Economy and the Urban Renaissance

ODPM Urban Affairs Sub-committee 6 March 2003

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Urban Affairs Sub-committee inquiry into 'The Evening Economy and the Urban Renaissance' [HC 396-ii]
MS BRIGID SIMMONS, Business in Sport and Leisure Limited, MR TIM MARTIN, J D Wetherspoon, MR ROB HAYWARD, The British Beer and Pub Association, examined.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I am sure you are all aware that there is strong evidence from some quarters that the Licensing Bill will increase the problem that it is supposed to control. That was a view supported by Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police when the Committee met them last week in the west end. They were very concerned that any relaxation on licensing hours would cause more problems than it would resolve. We also have the evidence from the Irish Republic where back benchers there are now trying to have the relaxation of licensing hours which they effected some 12 months ago reversed because they think it is causing more problems on the streets, more violence, etc. I would like to be convinced because I would like to see a relaxation. What evidence is there that would convince us that this is not going to be a problem?

Mr Hayward: The Licensing Bill went into the Lords first and I wrote to every member of the House of Lords seeking support over a range of issues. I have a letter here from Lord Ewing, who was the minister who introduced reform in Scotland quite a long time ago. I think it is relevant that I give you the full letter to read later but I would like to draw your attention to one particular paragraph. He says, "Our legislation brought about the most amazing transformation in the standards of licensed premised in Scotland. Obviously with the owners realising right at the beginning that, if they were to attract tourists and indeed clients who wished to take advantage of the new relaxed regime and much later availability of the facilities, they simply had to transform their premises and, to their eternal credit, they did." I also have the ACPO evidence that they gave to DCMS at the time of the original publication of the White Paper. Their opening paragraph says, "ACPO has been consistent in the support of the removal of rigid permitted hours and the introduction of more flexible opening hours." Again, rather than it being tabled as one sentence, I will leave the full evidence. It is absolutely clear both from ACPO and from the experience in Scotland that there are overall beneficial effects. Lord Ewing's letter identifies one or two problems, particularly about happy hours, but in broad principle what we have identified seems to be supported by the Scottish experience and by ACPO's evidence.

Mr Martin: Over a longer time scale in New Zealand they used to stop serving at 6pm. They had what they called the six o'clock swill. They moved it on to 10pm and they have now deregulated more. The information that I have is that the situation has greatly improved and the drinking culture has improved. I do not know what went wrong in Ireland.

Ms Simmons: We do know what went wrong in Westminster. Westminster have always admitted that they did not use the planning powers they have to restrict the number of premises in Westminster. It is important that this Committee understands this because you are essentially from a planning background. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998, section 17, requires all local authorities to have due regard to the likely effect of granting a planning consent and the need to do all they reasonably can to prevent crime and disorder in their areas. One of our solicitors has recently looked at what powers local authorities have to turn down applications for planning if the type of licensed premises is the wrong type. There has recently been a case in Worcester where it went all the way to the High Court and it was made absolutely clear by the licensing inspector that in his mind the proposal in its future operation must be satisfactorily secured in planning terms before it passes to the licensing authority for any control necessary. Whereas a restaurant would have been acceptable, it was not acceptable to have a pub. A lot of local authorities need some joined up thinking, particularly now they are going to have responsibility for liquor licensing between economic development, planning and licensing.


Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): On this question of the effects on the local community of closing times and extending closing times, you seem to suggest that there are special problems in Westminster and perhaps even in Dublin. Have you any evidence that extending or relaxing the licensing laws will decrease crime and disorder or does it not make any difference or does it increase it?

Ms Simmons: The Isle of Man opened up all their hours and they believed that there was a decrease of about 40 per cent. It appeared in the White Paper that the government put forward. No doubt we need control over licensed premises and we need control in town centres but there is also a relationship with transport. One of the problems Westminster has is that there is no way of getting home at the end of it. The police and the industry have always supported the introduction of staggered hours, which will allow people to leave at different times, so you will have time to go to the toilet before you have to move out of those premises. You will be able to drift home. One of the problems associated with inflexible hours which Westminster has persisted with that is against the way the Bill is written is that everyone goes out at the same time and that does create problems. We do not have hard evidence that it will make a change but equally, from the tourist's perspective, he has absolutely no understanding of the sort of hours we have in this country. They want to have the facility to move on and I believe this country in the 21st century has to be offering flexibility. It is not about creating these artificial restrictions.

Mr Martin: By definition, you are not going to have any UK examples because the law says that they have to be from abroad and the continent is the nearest abroad which is most frequently cited where conditions are better.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Is that not to do with historical reasons?

Mr Martin: Probably there is an element of that as well.

Ms Simmons: That is to do also with changing the culture through education.


Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): This question will perhaps test how confident you are in what you have been telling us. If a relaxation of the licensing laws is not going to pose a problem and in some ways may be an advantage, presumably there should be very little additional cost involved in terms of the community. Would businesses be willing to contribute or to pay the extra costs which might fall on the local authorities or the police as a result of extended opening hours?

Ms Simmons: We have been against paying for the police. There have been approaches made by police in Manchester and Newcastle to pay for additional police and we do not believe this is right. An awful lot of people pay business taxes and you have to look at this in the complete round, about where the problem occurs. We are talking about changing a culture here and I cannot stress this too much. It is not going to mean that suddenly overnight these flexible hours will change that culture. Yes, it is helpful if we can enter into better partnerships. At the moment as a business you do not have a partnership with the local authority because you are not electing your representatives. Businesses do not have a vote in that sense. Giving them a greater ownership of their local community is very important.

Mr Hayward: We do not think what is being considered currently in the House of Lords is a panacea to all the problems. There will be problems. In terms of paying for policing, the problem associated with any form of local taxation is identifying who should and who should not and the equity of it. In the case of policing, if you are paying within area A and there is a problem just across the street, the police are either drawn off, which everybody recognises should happen, and yet the people who are paying for the police are inside that area. It is a question of do you charge pubs, bars or nightclubs, restaurants, convenience stores, all the people who will benefit in terms of all the businesses? In general, as an industry, we pay very substantially through pubs and bars, through beer duty and the like and we are a substantial contributor to local rates in one form or another but the biggest single issue is equity.


Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Will the Licensing Bill as currently proposed hinder or help in the management of the evening economy?

Mr Bennett: It will be good in parts. The idea of simplifying, having premises licences and personal licences and modernising legislation which was last dealt with in the 1960s is of tremendous importance. He idea of getting rid of a fixed closing time is also extremely good but I would not want that to be taken as being wholly in favour of the Bill. The working party I represent is not, for two reasons. One is that the Bill at the moment says it empowers residents but I think it burdens people because it puts the onus on them to provide relevant representations, which allows the whole licensing process to go forward. In any areas where there are concentrations of licensed premises, that is going to be quite a burden. Under the public entertainment licence system, local authorities have run that since the 1960s without major complaint and they will be able to draw up policies, to have officers who put those policies into effect and the individual licensing sub-committee or committee makes decisions in the light of those policies. If residents have to be drawn into that situation and it is down to them to make the relevant representations to trigger the whole process, that does not empower; it burdens. In the absence of those representations, local authorities are now going to be put in a situation not where they may grant an application but where they must. This seems to me to be potentially very inequitable. You may have a lot of representations that were made for premises here and maybe there was a great battle fought and residents and neighbouring businesses got together and some conditions were put in. Six months later over here another application goes in. Those people may feel they do not need to go through all those arguments about puking, urination and cleansing or whatever because that was all sorted out. They may not make the further representation and the local authority would have to grant that application without many of the conditions that have been fought for because their policies do not come into effect unless relevant representations are made. I feel the Bill in its "must grant" conditions is quite flawed. The other thing I feel very strongly about is that there is a natural watershed between the evening economy and the night economy. As a licensee, I would not want to stop people operating until the early hours of the morning but there should be a higher burden of proof for people who want to operate later at night so that you might have a presumption in favour for all sorts of activities to develop and support the evening economy but later at night you may say, "Your application must be accompanied by an environmental impact assessment" or something to show that you have taken on board all the things people have talked about. Transport may be bad in central London. It may be bad in Westminster but it is even worse in the late night economy in the suburbs and in other small towns. It is even more car dependent. It is fine to say that there should be more taxis and other people should be providing this service but many people do not want to go out late at night because of the adverse consequences. It would be a question of saying that a well thought through business plan can convince a local authority that these premises should open for whatever hours but a badly thought through one the local authority should have the discretion to refuse. If it is just going to be the market knows best, it may be that there will be some very good, responsible operators but that is not necessarily the type of late night economy that we will end up with. Therefore, after midnight or possibly one o'clock in the morning the burden of proof should shift to the applicant to show that they have considered and sought to mitigate all the adverse impacts.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): In your evidence you refer to the cumulative effect of a number of licensed outlets and areas becoming saturated. Do you believe that licensing authorities have sufficient powers to deal with that?

Mr Bennett: They have some powers at the moment but under the Licensing Bill there is nothing on the face of the Bill that would allow them to deal with cumulative impacts. There is some draft ministerial guidance which now contains some provisions. That is very much a second best to having something in the Bill which explicitly deals with the issues. Ministerial guidance can very easily be changed and I think it has been amended so that there is some element of parliamentary scrutiny, but the other difficulty about the way ministerial guidance so far has been drawn up is that it envisaged a very limited, quite tight set of circumstances in which these things would be appropriate; and also is very keen to stress that applications which they say would not of themselves add significantly to cumulative impact should be allowed. The problem with that argument is, little by little, an area changes. It is not only that a cinema changes into a huge nightclub of 2,000. Particularly in historic town and city centres where the premises are small, it can be the cumulative impact of all those small premises. Exempting small premises is not such a good idea.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): It is something of a subjective judgement, is it not, as to when you are going to reach saturation point? There is going to be a lot of argument if a local authority turns down an application because it says, "This is going to take us up to saturation point." How easy is it going to be to make decisions like that?

Mr Bennett: I think that is going to be very difficult in the absence of keeping proper data. It would seem a very sensible thing to keep what one might call a matrix of various different data. It seems to me there is data that you could use in relation to the number of noise complaints, the data that you might get about street fouling, about the closing times of public conveniences, about cleansing, about the availability of public transport and, crucially, about levels of crime and disorder. That would give you an indication, if you kept them by ward or something like that, if you saw a certain ward where all those factors were beginning to rise above a certain level, it would give you an early warning sign that you were beginning to get to a problem rather than having to wait until your local community is up in arms because it has problems and trying to clamp the lid on after the event. It seems to me that the keeping of data and being able to say that this area appears to be having a problem would then allow a licensing authority to take those factors into account in the way it a) published its local licensing policy statement but b) the way in which it dealt with individual applications.

Mr Cummings: Do you believe that the Licensing Bill protects the rights of residents who either choose to live in or who have historically lived in thriving areas of mixed use?


MR FRANK WHITELEY, Deputy Chief Constable, Northamptonshire Police and MR ANDREW TROTTER, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police, examined.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Bank robbery is a far more serious offence, of course, than the kind of anti-social behaviour we are talking about being generated by a night-time punter?

Mr Whiteley: Unless, of course, they lead to stabbings and things of that sort.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Yes, indeed, that is right, let us agree to that. As a matter of fact, even when it does not lead to that kind of serious crime, the latter can actually have much more impact on the quality of the lives of people, than someone going out and robbing a bank. Despite that, as I understand it, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 - you probably know more about this than I do - provides a clear definition of crime, but not disorder. Does this then, therefore, impact on the way the police use it?

Mr Trotter: It is not a question of the way the police deal with it, it is the way the targets are given to us to deal with it. We have very clear targets given to us by central government and by local authorities as well and they are around headline crime, around street crime and around burglary, with some considerable success. Disorder does not feature so much in top-down target-setting, but it does very much for local communities. We all know - and I have worked in a rural force as well as in the city - that the constant demand is around the drunkenness, the yobbery, the things that impact on everyone's life every day. If your child cannot go to the park because there are yobs in the park, or you are frightened by the drunks coming home from the pub every night, that is something that really impacts on someone's life. That does not feature in headline crime statistics, it is difficult for anyone to define, it is not particularly fashionable, but it is the sort of thing that can terrorise local communities and things like the pub changing its opening hours or a different type of pub where you get a different sort of music or a different sort of clientele can rapidly transform, whether it be a village, town or city centre, the way that people behave, so it is an issue for us without a doubt.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Can I ask you about the power of the police to make closing orders on licensed premises for up to 24 hours. What criteria do you use?

Mr Whiteley: It is fair to say that closure on that basis is fairly rare. There have been a few cases across the country but it is very rare. The starting point, as with everything, having got a power, is generally one of negotiation, so wherever we find disorder associated with premises more often than not the licensing inspector will visit the premises, explain the problem and threaten them with closure, and that generally brings an increase in performance. Where we particularly have had examples arising would be pubs related to football violence so we know that every Saturday the supporters will always go to this pub, will always get tanked up and will always go out and cause problems. I know we have issued a closure order in those sort of circumstances. I return to the earlier point I made which is having powers is the important thing and what we should not get into is the game of trying to say how many times have you used the power, and if you have not used it very often it is not a very useful power. It is the power of persuasion that comes from having a legal power. Going back to your definition of disorder, what I would say is the criteria we can use is databases based on intelligence on disorder around premises and that is the type of thing we are looking to build up. Although disorder is not well defined, the command and control systems that most forces operate allow us to collect plenty of information to tell us, broadly speaking, where the issues are, which are the premises we should be focusing on and therefore to go in and say, "You are ripe for a closure order unless --- "

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