Mixed reception for licensing levy

NEW licensing rules which would allow councils to introduce a late-night levy on premises selling alcohol beyond midnight have been given a mixed reception.

It is claimed its introduction could affect the vibrancy of Ryedale’s night-time economy if bars and other premises cut back their hours to avoid paying a levy, while some might have to close if it is no longer viable to continue the business.

The rules are mainly aimed at areas where large numbers of people may be spilling out of night clubs into the same area, but they also allow licensing authorties generally to take action if it is thought necessary.

Members of Ryedale District Council’s licensing committee agreed at their meeting to “note” a report from a senior official in relation to changes to the Licensing Act 2003, but to take no action or decision for the time being as to whether they want to introduce them.

Coun Linda Cowling (Cons), who chaired the session, said: “There is no evidence to make us want to introduce this now,” adding she understood the police did not want this at this stage.

But there were hints at the committee meeting that as the rules were drawn up before the introduction of the new Police and Crime Commissioners it may be a question of “watch this space”.

If a licensing authority decided to implement the levy, it must formally consult with the Police and Crime Commissioner, the police and all licence holders and others about its decision and there had to be sufficient evidence to justify making an order.

Failure to do so and being able to fully justify its decision could result in a legal challenge or a judicial review.

The new rules mean licensing authorities could introduce not only a late-night levy but also early morning alcohol restriction orders (EMRO) where it is deemed there are alcohol-related crime and disorder issues in the whole or part of their area between midnight and 6am.

A licensing authority could limit the area where an EMRO was being applied but not the type of premises within it.

Steven Richmond, the council’s health and environment manager, who described it as “quite a savage piece of legislation”, said there were no exceptions to the type of premises that were affected by an EMRO in one area except for hotels who provide alcohol to residents through mini-bars and room service, but they would be affected if they serve alcohol in a bar, lounge or lobby.

He felt a balance needed to be struck between protecting residents from nuisance and late-night alcohol related disorder while also protecting the local economy.

If a late-night levy was introduced then half of the licensed premises would be affected and about 90 premises would probably apply for a reduction in hours.

Coun Peter Walker (Ind) felt the new rules were “draconian” as far as Ryedale was concerned.

When members were asked to vote on whether they would look favourably on introducing a levy or restriction order, they agreed the matter should be discussed at the police liaison committee.

• The committee also heard that new entertainment licence rules have come into force.

It means that a school parent teachers association, for example, could have a disco where soft drinks are being sold without any longer having to apply for a licence provided the session, if there was amplified music, did not go beyond 11pm and the audience was under 200 people.

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