Most of the changes in this Act that affect licensing will come into effect on Wednesday 25th April. The so called "light touch" regime introduced by the new Licensing Act in 2005 is no more! The Government’s stated aim now is to "rebalance the Licensing Act" to make existing regulation stronger.
The most significant changes from 25th April are:
Adding the local Primary Care Trust (ie Health Body) as a responsibly authority.
PCTs will be given notice of all new licence, review and variation applications and will be able to make representations. It may be difficult, not to mention costly and time consuming, for overstretched PCTs to produce relevant, specific evidence. General evidence of, for example, increases in drunken A&E admissions at closing time, may be produced, but it remains to be seen how much weight would be given on any particular application.
Licensing authority able to make representations
To date, the authority has relied on input from their colleagues in environmental health and the police to provide relevant evidence about a given application, but they will now be able to make their own representations. A system of "Chinese Walls" will have to be set up within the licensing department to prevent any conflict of interest, potentially impacting on staffing and cost for the authority.
Removal of the "vicinity" test.
Residents and other interested parties, who currently have to show that they live or work near the premises, will be able to make representations on any application in any part of the country. This effectively gives carte blanche to someone with a grudge against a particular operator to hold up applications, force hearings and, of course, increase costs. The licensing authority has to consider whether such an action is "frivolous or vexatious", but at the very least, this development will result in increased uncertainty for operators.
Change in wording from "necessary" to "appropriate"
All references to the word "necessary" in the Licensing Act 2003 will be changed to "appropriate". To paraphrase an eminent licensing QC, it may be appropriate to send your mother-in-law a birthday card, but it is not necessary…. The likely effect is that conditions will be imposed on licences if the licensing authority thinks that they will be likely to help promote the licensing objectives, whether or not they will actually make any difference in the particular case.
Temporary Event Notices
The environmental health authority will have the right to make representations on TEN applications. Currently only the police are consulted and only have 2 working days to respond. This time limit is extended to 3 days for both EHO and police.
Objections may be made in respect of all 4 licensing objectives, not just crime and disorder.
Conditions attached to an existing Premises licence may be attached to a TEN, if appropriate.
There is some good news:
Extension from 96 hours to 168 hours (ie 7 days)
Increased allowance from 15 days to 21 days annually
Ability to apply with 5 working days’ notice, rather than the current 10 (to be used sparingly, in exceptional circumstances).
Early Morning Restriction Orders and Late Night Levies are the subject of further consultation.
The net effect?
A retreat from the much trumpeted liberalisation of the leisure sector. Remember "24 hour licensing", "café culture" ….?!
Likely to lead to increased costs for the operator. Record costs in 2011 have been quoted as £76,000!
Uncertainty and increased paperwork for operators and authorities alike.
Any applications that have been lodged before 25th April will be dealt with under the existing regime, after that date all the new procedures will take effect.