Opportunities for socialising and cultural activity, theatres, live music, all make London what it is. I recently walked through the latest phase of Argent’s Kings Cross development, the area already buzzing with people enjoying the spaces and venues. And, whilst some change is always inevitable, even more important are London’s existing pubs and venues, under threat by any combination of the five Rs: rents, rates, regulation, residents and redevelopment.
But I realised how much a planning lawyer like me operates in a professional silo, trained to think of the statutory regimes for alcohol and entertainment licensing as “not planning law”.
Which is a bit odd.
If town and city centres are to retain their central economic and social role they have to be about more than working and shopping. And that needs legislation and policy to be focused on common objectives.
The draft London Plan has policy HC6 (“supporting the night-time economy”). But this is of little short-term effect, given how long it will take for the policy to be reflected on borough plans/licensing policies, and the various planning policies at all levels (national, London-wide and borough) that point in potentially conflicting directions.
How joined up, or not, are boroughs’ planning and licensing strategies, in practice, at present? Operating hours for a development will often for instance be set down in planning conditions, only for a different set of hours to be set out in the eventual premises licence – or detailed operating strategies required which should be the domain of the licensing process.
The formal procedures and statutory criteria to be applied are certainly very different.
Each licensing authority must publish a statement of its licensing policy at least every five years, with much detail as to its expectations of operators, examples of licensing conditions for different kinds of venues and framework hours. How many of us, or our clients, get involved in this process?
A House of Lords Select Committee considered the operation of the Licensing Act 2003 regime in an April 2017 report and recommended that the licensing and planning regimes should be better integrated, indeed with the eventual amalgamation of licensing committees and planning committees. The recommendation was rejected by the Government in its August 2017 response.
Will this separation hold firm? Is it sensible for statements of licensing policy to be prepared separately from local plans? Is it sensible for licensing and planning matters to be dealt with by different committees and sub-committees? Is this efficient and understandable both by potential users of the systems, by local authority officers and members, and by local residents? Is there another way of reconciling the desirability of encouraging the night-time economy with legitimate local concerns as to amenity and safety?
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