Treat your plans the same way you do your licensed hours and your conditions
One of the most common and problematic licensing issues we see almost every day is with licensed plans. Whilst the subject matter is very important it is also a little dull, so I am going to introduce a fictional character into this article named “Nigel”. Nigel is a Licensing Officer at the local Council. We will be making our plans for Nigel (those of you with a fondness for late 70s music will forgive the pun).
Sadly, Nigel is also a little dull. He is not one of those Licensing Officers who takes a pragmatic, “broad brush” approach – he is a stickler for detail, applying each paragraph, sub-paragraph and footnote of the Regulations to the letter. You do not want Nigel thinking your licensed plans are inadequate or inaccurate, as this slapdash approach to regulatory compliance can make him bite the end off his pencil and throw his clipboard in the rubbish bin. He may even threaten to stop you trading until you have rectified the issue.
Your plans are part of your licence. You should treat them in the same way as you do your licensed hours and your conditions. The Regulations require you to show:
1. The boundary of the building, any walls and, if different, the perimeter of the premises;
2. Points of access and egress;
3. Escape routes / fire doors [if different to access/egress];
4. Fixed structures (including furniture, e.g. fixed seating) or similar objects temporarily in a fixed location (but not furniture, e.g. gaming machines) which may impact on the ability of individuals on the premises to use exits or escape routes without impediment;
5. Stages or raised areas, including heights;
6. Steps, stairs, lifts etc;
7. Toilets, kitchen and fire safety equipment.
Now, you may think it a good idea to move a wall or install some additional fixed seating, but does Nigel? If he attends at your premises for a licensing inspection with his plan and sees that your layout is different to the official licensed one he may well demand a minor variation (at the cost of £89) and, depending upon the nature and degree of the changes, may even state that until that application is granted (a minimum of 10 working days, and only once you have the appropriate plans drawn up) you are trading unlawfully. Much better that you send a copy of your proposed new layout to Nigel a month or so before you start the works for his comment on whether an application is needed. This will leave his pencil unmolested and you at worst no more than £89 worse off.
We have, however, seen far worse examples than the odd wall or bar being in the wrong place. Sometimes whole floors are missing from the plans and nobody knows why. If you cannot prove that the Licensing Authority has misplaced them then you will almost certainly not be able to trade that floor until a full variation application is made (28 day consultation) – Licensing Officers far more mellow than Nigel will insist on this, resulting in a frantic flurry of Temporary Event Notices to cover the intervening period. Be wary, too, of inadvertently de-licensing the premises. This can happen when you lodge plans for one floor or area that has changed but not make it abundantly clear in your application that the existing areas are to remain the same. Without a carefully worded and clear explanation the Licensing Officer may throw your existing plans in the bin, leaving you with just one licensed floor or area. We often send in a whole set of plans just to make it perfectly clear.
Look at any description of licensable activities on the face of the plan itself. Are you sure you are not selling alcohol where only consumption of alcohol is permitted? The wording or coloured lines on the face of the plans can qualify and restrict the wider permissions on your licence itself. These things bother Nigel. You may find that the whole of your premises is licensed for pretty much everything in which case all well and good, but you would expect to know your licensing hours and conditions, so you should expect to know what your licensed plans permit as well.
And as we head towards a Summer of sport with people hopefully congregating as much outside as in, you will want to be sure that those outside areas are licensed for the regulated activities that you propose (although of course you are aided here by the Live Music Act 2012 and subsequent deregulation of regulated entertainment up to 11pm).
Lastly, apologies to all Nigels out there.