The role of local authority licensing policies
A local authority’s Statement of Licensing Policy (SOLP) plays a very important role in the licensing process but is often overlooked by those operating in the leisure industry.
The purpose of the SOLP is to set out the position that the licensing authority wishes to take on particular matters in connection with the discharge of its licensing function. They generally include useful guidance as to the licensing process, how the authority expects premises to be managed and the type of conditions the authority generally expects to see offered as part of applications.
The document is important because, when discharging their functions under the Licensing Act 2003 (the Act), a licensing authority is required by law to do so with a view to promoting the licensing objectives and, in carrying out that function, they must have regard to their Licensing Statement and any guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
Licensing authorities are required to draw up a SOLP every five years and since the Act came into force, the content of the policies have on the whole developed as authorities seek to control the impact of licensed areas and put their own particular stamp on their area.
With the introduction in many authority areas of Cumulative Impact Policy zones (Newcastle and North Tyneside), late night levies (Newcastle) and Early Morning Restrictions Orders, policies are essential reading for applicants. As an applicant, it is essential to be familiar with the SOLP so that, for example, you don’t waste your time and money applying for a licence to allow licensed activities to 4am in an area where the SOLP quite clearly states that licensed activities would generally only be permitted to 11pm.
The advantages of policies are that they provide transparency and ensure that like applications are dealt with similarly, so there is fairness and consistency, as well as the promotion of efficient administration. They can protect businesses, residents and other users in an area from the proliferation of licensed venues.
But it is essential to remember that, whilst the authority must have regard to its SOLP, they are not bound by it. All applications must be considered on their own merits. That is essential as the disadvantages of a rigorously applied policy without flexibility can lead to stagnation of an area.
If the policy is applied without exception then investment will be stifled, resulting in licensed premises becoming run down, no new businesses entering the area to drive the market and a negative impact on the cultural and social benefits that many licensed premises bring to a region.
The key for authorities is to use the policy to control applications which offer more of the same whilst encouraging applications which offer quality, innovation and cultural benefits.
The key for applicants it to understand the policy to ensure their application either falls within the required parameters or is exceptional enough to succeed on its merits.