Licensing – a minefield to negotiate
The Licensing Act (2003) came into force in 2005. It was the (then) Government’s aim to introduce a café culture into Britain’s town and city centres with a Mediterranean style of eating and drinking. Bars would be open longer and later, drinking would be relaxed and staggered, with happy and contented folk drifting quietly home over a period of time.
Town centres would become where to take the whole family, even children and that favourite aunty too. There were even to be Purple Flag Awards (like the Green Flag for Parks) for the places that managed their night economy the best.
Such was the dream. The reality is far different. Binge drinking has soared, along with alcohol related crime and disorder. A & E Departments have seen a huge rise in late night cases caused by excess drinking. Extra demands have been made the Police as they try and keep law and order in the early hours of the morning when the pubs turn out and the patrons make for home or move onto other later opening establishments.
The costs to the NHS, Police and Councils, who have to clear things up, have been enormous. For many folk, town and city centres, especially on a Friday and Saturday after 10pm, have become ‘no-go areas’.
Here in St Albans things have reflected the overall national changes, but in a somewhat less spectacular manner. There have been some late night incidents over the years and the city centre can certainly become lively after 10pm on some nights. Our City has built up a reputation as one of the places to be for a good night out as well as somewhere to get hammered in.
The main problem arises from late night noise: it is either from live or recorded music thumping away after most people’s bedtime. In many establishments the music is set to get louder as the evening progresses. This apparently encourages the drinking. The other is the noise, usually shouting and cheering as the revellers make their way home through the side streets and into the residential areas in the small hours of the morning. Then there is the banging of car doors and revving of engines. Their vehicles have been parked in side streets earlier on in the evening when they arrived and started their round of drinking.
Making any complaint is difficult. People are naturally reluctant to challenge those making the noise and if you turn to the Council, they will want to know from which premises the people came from. Difficult to establish is that one! Residents living near to noisy pubs and clubs sometimes complain to the management, keeping a note in their diary. Alas this is not going to achieve very much when it comes to a Licensing Hearing or Review. Such complaints have to be recorded and referenced with the Council – see the article on Licensing – “an uphill struggle for residents” from the Autumn 2014 newsletter and what you should do.
The main problem now, after nearly 10 years of the Licensing Act, is that despite all the statistics about the costs on health, the NHS, social disorder, Police etc, more premises want to stay open longer and later. For this they need to apply for a revised licence. The public have a right to make representation, but they must be based on at least one of the four objectives of the Licensing Act.
- To prevent crime and disorder
- Public safety
- To prevent public nuisance
- To protect children from harm
The first two objectives will depend largely on the nature of the premises operation and experiences of residents. The third is the most usual concern. The fourth was initially to protect children from passive smoking, but could apply to them being woken up and frightened by the noise, activities and language sometimes experienced, and / or if they have school the next day.
If none of these objectives are mentioned the Council is unlikely to accept your representation and deem it invalid. Licensing matters can be complex and seem difficult, with the feeling that obstacles are being placed in your way to be able to get the feelings you have heard. Don’t be put off! You have a right to a decent night’s sleep and for your amenities to be respected.
A blue notice announcing a licensing variation application displayed outside the premises or in a window is your first sign that something is afoot. A small public notice in one of the local papers may be another. These are not always easy to spot. A deadline date for any representation is given. Licensing is not like Planning – indeed it often seems the two exist in different worlds.
The Civic Society has some experience at attending Licensing Hearings and can share views and advice with concerned residents.
How to Report a Problem
For Licensed premises:
Out of Hours Compliance Officers work on Friday or Saturday nights between 18.00 – 03.00. These are specialist Licensing and Environmental Health Council Officers.
They can be contacted on: Licensing Hotline: 0777 0701 720
If you cannot talk to an officer immediately you can leave a message on the voicemail as this probably means they are busy dealing with another premises. Experience shows they call back within the half hour. They attend as soon as possible and the ideal is if they can witness the problem themselves.
If you do call the Out of Hours Hotline, contact the Licensing Department the next working day to obtain a reference number for your records. (Tel: 01727 819541)
At other times, complaints from licensed premises can also be logged with the 24 hour call centre on 01727 811155.
Complaints can also be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By post to: Licensing Authority, St Albans City and District Council ,Civic Centre, St Peters Street, St Albans AL1 3JE
Tel: 01727 819541
If you make a complaint, in all instances, get a reference number. All this may seem tedious but it is essential as evidence if problems arise.
For disturbances in the street:
Contact the Police – on the non emergency number 101. If it looks like an emergency dial 999.
How to Register a Licensing Complaint
A problem with a licensed premise must be recorded with St Albans District Council Licensing and/or Environmental Health Departments for it to be taken into account in future decisions.
If you register a complaint, you should keep a record of the complaint and the reference number which should be given to you by the Council. If not, ensure you ask for one. The reference number ensures that the complaint has been logged and that you can reference the complaint in any future hearings or reviews.