Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act

This is the Act whose primary function is the introduction of elected police commissioners and it is this aspect of the Act which has been most widely publicised.

However part 2 of the Act deals with changes to the licencing regime these changes will have considerable significance for the management of Bath’s night time economy. The main changes brought in by the Act are summarised below:

The Licensing Act 2003 defines responsible authorities as including the police, fire authorities, local authorities exercising health and safety, local planning, environmental health and child protection functions, and any licensing authorities (other than the relevant licensing authority) in whose area the premises are situated. The relevant licensing authority, in our case BANES, is currently is not a "responsible authority".
Only responsible authorities can make representations in relation to applications for the grant or variation of a premises licence or club premises certificate, or request the review of licences.

This Act introduces amendments to bring BANES licencing department within the definition of "responsible authority".

The Act also makes the local Primary Care Trust a responsible authority.

Under the Licensing Act 2003 ‘interested parties’ (persons who can make an application for review or representations) must have a particular relationship to the vicinity of the premises (for example, by living in the vicinity or being involved in a business in the vicinity). This Act removes this test of ‘vicinity’ from the Licensing Act. This will enable any person to make representations in relation to applications for the grant or variation of a premises licence or club premises certificate. However, all representations will need to relate to the licensing objectives and must not be frivolous or vexatious.

The Licensing Act 2003 imposes a general duty on BANES to exercise their licensing functions with a view to promoting the licensing objectives; the objectives are the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. The 2003 Act requires BANES to take steps which are "necessary" for the promotion of the objectives.

This Act amends this by requiring licensing authorities to take steps which are "appropriate" for the promotion of the objectives. This has the effect of reducing the threshold which licensing authorities must meet.

The Licensing Act 2003 currently includes a scheme which enables an individual to carry on a licensable activity, on a temporary basis. To hold a temporary event the event holder (‘premises user’) must send a temporary event notice to the licensing authority and the Chief Officer of Police at least 10 working days before the event. The Chief Officer, if satisfied that the temporary event would undermine the crime prevention objective, must send an objection notice to the licensing authority and premises user no later than 48 hours after receipt of the temporary event notice.

Police objections trigger a requirement on the licensing authority to hold a hearing and may result in a counter notice being sent to the premises user if the licensing authority agrees that the temporary event would undermine the crime prevention objective. If a counter notice is issued, the temporary event notice will no longer authorise any licensable activities.

This Act extends the right to object to a temporary event notice to the environmental health authority, and allows the police and the environmental health authority to object to a temporary event. It also allows licensing authorities to issue a counter notice under section on the basis of all four of the licensing objectives.
This Act introduces the new category of ‘relevant person’, and revises and adapts the processes governing objections from relevant persons; these relate to the holding of a hearing or modification of a temporary event notice following receipt of objections from one or more relevant persons.

This Act enables BANES to impose conditions on a temporary event notice if it considers that this promotes the licensing objectives. A licensing authority can only impose such conditions if an objection has been made by at least one relevant person, and at least a part of the premises in relation to which the temporary event notice is given is already subject to a premises licence or club premises certificate.

The Act allows the premises user to give a limited number of temporary event notices in a shorter timeframe to the existing temporary event notice process. This is defined as a "late temporary event notice". A temporary event notice which is given in accordance with the existing timeframe is defined as a "standard temporary event notice". An objection from at least one relevant person to a "late temporary event notice" will result in a counter notice being issued. This will make the late temporary event notice ineffective.
The Act extends the period in which a relevant person can object to a temporary event notice from two to three working days.

The Licensing Act 2003 makes it an offence for a premises licence holder, or person who has given a temporary event notice, to sell alcohol on two or more occasions in a three month period to a child. On conviction, a person is liable to a fine not exceeding £10,000. This amendment increases the maximum fine to £20,000.

This Act enables the police and trading standards officers to issue a closure notice to a person for whom there is evidence that they have committed an offence for which there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. The closure notice discharges the person from any further criminal liability but prevents them from selling alcohol for the period specified in the notice. This act increases that period from a maximum of 48 hours to a period of between 48 hours and 336 hours.

The Licensing Act 2003 contain powers to make regulations to prescribe the annual fees payable by the holders of premises licences and club premises certificates.  A fee which is not paid on the due date can be recovered as a debt due to a licensing authority. No other sanction for non-payment of an annual fee is available to a licensing authority. This Act requires a licensing authority to suspend a licence or certificate for non-payment of an annual fee if certain conditions are met.

This Act enables BANES to introduce a levy payable by the holders of a premises licence or club premises certificate if they are authorised to supply alcohol between midnight and 6am.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Live Music Bill

This piece of legislation is being steered through Parliament by our local MP Don Foster.

We, however, are very concerned that this Bill will undermine conditions designed to reduce noise pollution from premises licensed to sell alcohol. One of the great things about this city is that large numbers of residents still live in the centre – around 10,000 in Abbey and Kingsmead, the two central wards. These people’s lives are already subject to disruption from licensed premises and their clientele, and we are strongly opposed to measures of deregulation which could make the present situation worse. Most working adults and the elderly retire not long after 22.00 hours, but small children are put to bed from 19.00 hours. It is unacceptable that more noise should be allowed during the period when people are trying to get to sleep.

The Bill relies heavily on a cut-off of 200 patrons, as if implying that a function with such a number is unlikely to cause a problem. We believe that this is completely misguided. Most premises in the hotspots in Bath have a lower capacity than this, but have great potential to disturb nearby residents if not properly controlled. It is also entirely unclear who the supporters of the Bill believe are going to enforce such a limit.

Most licensed premises in Bath have licence conditions relating to noise i.e. closed windows, noise limiters etc. The Bill would remove these conditions unless residents had gone to the enormous trouble and stress of seeking a licence review to re-impose them. It is not right that the onus for obtaining a reasonable outcome should rest on residents, rather than the businesses who will be making a profit out of the increased noise.
Some licensed premises, such as restaurants, which do not have regular entertainment, may have no conditions concerning noise. These can cause a problem when a band or DJ is brought in for an occasional function. It would be wrong to allow them to be deregulated. The is no evidence at all that the current regulator regime is stifling live music in the city one only has to look at what is on offer at venues such as Moles, the Pump Room, the Bell, the Guild Hall, the Forum, the Chapel Arts Centre and the Pavilion to name but a few.

It is unclear to us how the Bill distinguishes between noise relating to musical performance and crowd noise. The latter can be a problem from people on the premises, as well as from noisy groups making their way between premises, or staggering home late at night.

For other premises, the supporters of the bill appear to have in their vision fairly benign music promoters such as local community groups, schools, morris men etc. But the Bill opens up scope for commercial promoters to hire other premises and spread the noise pollution associated with their activities, (amplified hip hop comes to mind), to places where it does not happen currently. Worse than that, it could attract guerrilla promoters who will create events in unpredictable places with little or no consideration for their neighbours.
In general we believe that implementation issues have been completely ignored in this debate. Who is going to count the size of audiences for instance or monitor the end time? Many of these events may be one-offs but several one-offs can be very damaging in a small area, such as the clusters of licensed premises in Bath. There is a kind of cumulative impact here, of which the Bill takes no account.

A key issue underlying all this is the continual assumption that the existing noise complaint process via environmental protection is robust. It is, with respect, nonsense for the Explanatory Notes on the Bill to say that ‘licensing authorities will continue to have a range of powerful sanctions available’. In B&NES environmental protection is in a separate department from licensing.Here, as in most parts of the country, the service is notoriously under-resourced, even before the present round of budget cuts. The complaints process is bureaucratic and imposes considerable work on the complainant. And effective action can only really be taken against regular offenders, whereas it is in the nature of live music events, that many are irregular and cause unpredictable patterns of nuisance.

We understand that the promoters of the Bill themselves guestimate that implementation would lead to a 10% increase in complaints about excessive noise from entertainment events. No evidence for this figure has been produced, but we would say that any increase is a problem, which cannot be offset by increased profit to business, let alone by the claimed ‘wellbeing from attendance and participation in ‘wellbeing from attendance and participation in more live music performance’

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Localism Act

The Localism Act, which will come into force early next year, has the potential for introducing significant risk for our local environment.

The Act contains a number of provisions relevant to TARA, notably:

A Neighbourhood Plan will be, for a small local area, an extension of the Local Plan and will have to be considered when planning decisions are being made.  It will have to be broadly consistent with the Local Plan and with national policy.   It will be subject to various procedures including a local referendum.

Neighbourhood Development Orders could grant planning permission for specific developments, or for a class of development (for instance rooftop wind-generators), or could place conditions on development given permission by the General Development Order (for example to say that house extensions have to be faced with Bath stone). They will be subject to various procedures including a local referendum.

The Community Right to Build is a particular kind of neighbourhood development order, which would grant planning permission for specific developments. They will be subject to various procedures including a local referendum.

Owners of property on the List of Assets of Community Value will not be able to dispose of it without advertising the fact first so that a community organisation can make an offer for it.  

Outside urban areas, most of these things will be dealt with by parish councils.  In areas such as Bath there will have to be a process for identifying who can take action on them.

Neighbourhood Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders will be the responsibility of “Neighbourhood Forums” acting in “Neighbourhood Areas”.  There can be only one Neighbourhood Forum in a Neighbourhood Area at a time, and it lasts for five years.  Any organisation can offer itself as a Neighbourhood Forum, subject to certain restrictions, and B&NES will have the main role in deciding which of them go ahead in an area.
The Community Right to Build is to be exercised by a “community organisation”, which is a “body
 corporate established for the express purpose of furthering the social, economic and environmental well being of individuals living, or wanting to live, in a particular area”, and which meets other conditions which the Government sets out in regulations.

Assets of Community Value may be nominated for a List by a voluntary or community body with a local connection (or otherwise as determined by a local authority), and it is the local authority which decides what goes on the list..  

FoBRA, TARA and other residents’ associations are concerned at the risk that commercial developers may capture and exploit these mechanisms. Most of them would be pretty expensive to use (a neighbourhood plan could easily cost £50,000 or more), and it is unlikely most genuine community organisations would easily be able to afford to use them. We have drawn these concerns to the attention of B&NES, who are currently developing protocols for handling their own role in these processes.

The Live Music Bill

Don Foster, is taking the Live Music Bill through the House of Commons.

This piece of legislation will remove controls on amplified and unamplified music at venues with a capacity up to 200 people. There are many pubs, bars and restaurants in the centre of Bath which feature live music, but few of them have a capacity of more than 200. So at a stroke this measure will remove noise controls from most venues in the city.

Residents in Bath are already too often subjected to unnecessary disturbance from the night time economy, including the noise of music and the noise of patrons making their way to and from their favourite night spot. It is very difficult to keep the lid on this nuisance, but residents’ associations have worked with the licensing authority to press for sensible controls. With a few exceptions, we have a reasonable compromise at the moment, and most significant licensed premises have noise conditions written into their licence.

10,500 residents live in the two central wards, Abbey and Kingsmead, including some 900 children and 1,800 elderly people, most of whom live only a stone’s throw from one or more licensed premises.

Noone is objecting to live music as such, as it brings great pleasure to many people.  But particularly where it is amplified, there is the risk of disturbance, and so it is absolutely right that there should be controls on noise. If the Live Music Bill is passed into law, the only way in which residents will be able to regain a degree of control is to go to the length of applying for a licence review or invoking the Noise Act. Both involve very onerous procedure, with an uncertain outcome.

Like the Licensing Act 2003, which has caused so much damage in city centres across the country, including Bath, the Live Music Bill is presented as an innocuous measure of ‘deregulation’. Its promoters even claim that there is a quantifiable increase in ‘wellbeing from attendance and participation in more live music performance’. The pub trade object to the ‘hassle of red tape’ and are all in favour of the Bill.

We urge other residents who don’t share the trade’s view about this to write as we have done to Don Foster at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA, or, to ask that the Bill be amended so that sensible controls on noise are not swept away.