The Executive Committee of the Dulwich Society has been much concerned recently by the threat to the peace and quiet of residential areas in Dulwich posed by the possibility that the night economy could spread to our neighbourhoods, particularly to areas such as Herne Hill and Dulwich Village. Under the Licensing Act 2003, licensed premises are able to apply to the local council for a licence for the sale of alcohol and the provision of public entertainment, such as music and dancing, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Society has drawn up guidelines on its recommended response to applications for extended hours and these were published in the Society's Summer Newsletter, and were also sent to Southwark Council. In addition, we have raised a number of objections to specific applications. This article looks at a recent case where the Society joined with local residents in opposing an application, with some success, and it points out some pitfalls that may allow unwelcome applications to slip through.
On 6 June 2006, the owners of the Half Moon Pub in Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, applied to vary their premises licence to extend the hours for drinking and provision of music and dancing for an additional hour on Fridays and Saturdays to 2 am (with a further 30 minutes drinking-up time) and for an addition 2 hours on Sundays, i.e. to 12.30 am on the Monday (again with a further 30 minutes drinking-up time). No change was sought for the 1 am limit (1.30 am closing time) on other days. In addition they applied for removal of the current licence condition prohibiting new admissions and readmissions after 12 midnight and for variation of the maximum accommodation limit on the premises at any time from 300 to 400 people.
Brief details of the application were given in a small notice in the windows at the front of the premises and were published in certain local newspapers and on Southwark Council's website. There was no other publicity and there is no requirement for it under the current legislation. 28 days were allowed for objections - or "representations" as they are now called. 20 representations were received from local residents and organisations representing them, including the Dulwich Society and the Stradella and Springfield Residents' Association. Many more objections would have been made if there had been better publicity, as is shown by the fact that over 120 signatures were obtained on a petition objecting to the application that was circulated in the neighbourhood for a few days just before the hearing, which was in the middle of the holiday period.
Under the new law, it is essential that objections be made by interested persons within the 28 days time limit as, in the absence of any representations, there will be no hearing before the Council's Licensing Sub-Committee and Council officials will be obliged to accept the application in full. To be valid, any objections must be on the grounds of one of the four licensing objectives set out in the Licensing Act 2003, namely:
Any representations that do not relate to one or more of these objectives, or which are considered to be frivolous or vexatious, will be ignored.
The hearing of the Half Moon's application was at Southwark Town Hall on 7 August, a date when many of the objectors and other concerned people were away on holiday. Four of the objectors did however present their objections verbally to the Licensing Sub-Committee and were each allowed 15 minutes to do so, which is the same time as was allowed to the applicants. The Sub-Committee however rejected the petition on the grounds that it was out of time and refused to hear any references to it. The applicants stated that there was a tradition of live music performance at the Half Moon which they were seeking to revive after some years of decline. The objectors stressed that they were not opposed to live music as such and accepted that the pub was generally well managed and seemed to make an effort to control sound escaping from the entertainment room at the rear of the premises, but that they had strong objections to the likely nuisance to local residents caused by large numbers of customers leaving the premises in the early hours of the morning to collect their cars parked in nearby residential streets as there was little parking available outside the pub and inadequate late public transport. Evidence was given of disturbances by loud voices, slammed car doors and revving engines that already occurs. The objections were particularly strong to the proposed extension of closing time until 1 am on Monday mornings as this was a school and working day when children and their parents needed a full nights sleep.
The Sub-Committee's decision was given after a two hour adjournment to consider the case. Their ruling was that sale of alcohol and provision of music and dance could continue until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays, with a 2.30 am closing time, but that there should be no change to the current 10.30 pm (11 pm closing time) hours on Sundays. They also decided that the condition on no new admissions after midnight should remain but readmissions would be permitted after that time (mainly to accommodate smokers when the smoking ban comes in next year) but had to be controlled by a scanning or stamping system to be administered by the door supervisor. In addition conditions were imposed that there was to be no outside drinking after 11 pm and any music played after 1 am had to be played through a sound limiter to be set in conjunction with the Council's noise team.
On the whole, local residents were relieved by this outcome. The applicants had 21 days to appeal but there has been no sign that the have done so.
The new law allows application to be made to the Council to vary, or even suspend or revoke, a licence if the premises cause unacceptable public nuisance or there is persistent breach of the licence conditions. For any such application to be successful it would be necessary to produce convincing evidence. People who suffer disturbance from licensed premises should therefore keep a diary recording details and dates and times of incidents and should also on appropriate occasions call out the Council's noise unit to take sound readings which could be used in evidence. Their telephone number is 7525 5777 (24 hours).
The lack of adequate publicity for applications for late hours drinking, etc. remains an issue. The Society has made representations to Southwark Council on this in the mid-term consultation they have been conducting on the working of their current licensing policy. In particular we have suggested that the Council should give amenity groups such as ours and tenants and residents associations' information on applications in their area that are received so that they can alert their members. In addition we have asked for more detail of applications to be given on the Council's webpage. This can be accessed on www.southwark.gov.uk /business centre/licensing/current applications. This gives a link to "licensing register", which allows you to search for either Applications or Licences granted. Under the list of criteria given for the search you need only insert the postcode or the ward and brief details will be shown for the applicable premises in the postcode or ward in question. Full details of applications made are set out in the Operating Schedule attached to applications. It is currently the practice of the Southwark (and also Lambeth) to charge £10.50 for a photocopy of this document. In our comments in the Southwark consultation we have urged that there should be no charge for this document.