Q&A Bid to go upmarket

  • Date: 05 November 2015
  • Author/Solicitor: James Anderson
  • Source: Reproduced from the Publican's Morning Advertiser

Q:  I have recently bought a licensed premises and transferred the licence to my company.  It used to trade as a late night venue and can conduct licensable activities including the sale of alcohol until 2am every day. I am going to introduce some food and craft ale and try and take the place more “up-market”.  I have submitted a variation application to extend the premises having obtained planning permission and I would anticipate that no more than an extra 40 persons would be accommodated in the new area; much to my surprise I have received a number of representations including one from the police who have informed me that the premises fall within a “cumulative impact area” and a number from local residents who are not happy at the increase in size of the premises.  What should I do? 

A:  Unfortunately, it appears that you have purchased the premises already and transferred the licence and therefore the variation is “at your risk”.

It would be sensible to take urgent legal advice but in the meantime, do contact the licensing authority and obtain a copy of their licensing policy.  Many cumulative impact policies make it clear that there is a presumption against a variation which may “add to the existing cumulative impact”.  The police have taken a literal interpretation and come to an initial conclusion that as you are making the premises bigger there will be more people thus causing more problems.  Strictly, this interpretation of the policy is correct and the burden will rest with you to convince them and, if you cannot, the licensing committee, that you will not add to the stress area.  I would seek a meeting as quickly as possible with the police to show them your plans together with any trading history, menus etc.  Hopefully, you will be able to explain that in changing the nature of the premises by offering more food, craft ale and attracting a different clientele you will effectively be reducing the cumulative impact rather than increasing it.

The final card which you may have to play is in relation to the later hours which, if you do not want to trade you may feel that you need to “throw in” as a clincher because clearly this application is crucial for you.

Secondly, in relation to the residents, it is probable that the residents have been disturbed by the activities of your predecessor.  This can happen when you inherit a licensed premises.  As all the residents have seen is an application to make the premises bigger without any other guarantees, perhaps understandably they have raised concerns that the larger premises will lead to greater problems.  Unfortunately, in my experience many residents do not appreciate the finer distinction of improvements to an offer and the premises generally if it is an extension rather than simply a refurbishment.  Again, I would try and take some intelligence from the council to see if it is possible to meet the residents or the residents’ leader and explain your proposals and try and reassure.

Again, the residents may wish for some form of reassurance in terms of minimum seating (to prevent it becoming a vertical drinking establishment) and possibly hours of operation.  In terms of numbers, simply by making a premises bigger will not necessarily increase the numbers and indeed may lead to an effective decrease if more tables and chairs, for example, are to be introduced and the “spend per head” accordingly is increased. 

It can sometimes be difficult to persuade the Authorities and local residents to appreciate the positive impact of the development of public houses.