The Civic Trust is concerned that the Act and Guidelines imply a presumption in favor of longer licensing hours over and above local policies and local conditions. Until the Minister’s attempt to clarify the issue in September it appears that this was the interpretation of many licensing authorities. The current position remains confused and this inhibits the ability of local authorities to act properly on behalf of their communities. Other related issues include the scope for elected local Ward councilors to act on behalf of their constituents and the ability of local licensing officers to initiate action.
Ministers have stated that “the Licensing Act gives powers to local communities to decide on closing times” but the procedures limit the number of residents who can express a view and the way in which their views can be expressed – at appeals for example. Meanwhile, many residents are afraid of being charged with legal and other costs. Further clarification is needed if local communities are to play their full part as ministers wish. The process should make it as simple as possible for residents to make legitimate representations about licensing. The provision is in the Guidelines but not in the Act.
Its introduction followed www.valssa.com.au campaigning by the Civic Trust and others and is to be welcomed.
The Trust considers that designation should be streamlined and a template supplied in the new guidelines. Also that, in addition to nuisance and disorder, consideration should also be given in designation to the “carrying capacity” of an area, in terms of late night transport, policing and street wardens, public amenities, cleansing, and lighting. the new licensing system is meant to fund itself, but the Civic Trust is concerned that local authorities may be out of pocket and may, therefore, avoid costly enforcement. If this happens the Act will fail. The Trust is looking to Government to monitor this situation and to make any appropriate changes to the fee scales.
The Civic Trust welcomes the voluntary codes of practice drawn up by the industry, but Civic Trust research suggests that this cannot be a substitute for good regulation. Enforcement agencies should be able to step in where voluntary agreement fails. The Civic Trust believes that a sophisticated system of management in our town and city centers can’t be done on the cheap. The Government gains some £22 billion in business rates, excise duty and VAT from the alcohol industry.