Associate solicitor Rosalyn Trotman comments:
A House of Lords select committee has published its post-legislative scrutiny report on the licensing regime, concluding that an “overhaul of the licencing framework is needed”.
Since its enactment 11 years ago, the Licensing Act 2003 has undergone numerous amendments, including nine Acts of Parliament, secondary legislation and changes to guidance.
The committee issued a scathing criticism of the raft of changes that have been made to the Licensing Act, resulting in what they called an “unfortunate piece of legislation”. The committee was particularly critical of the set up of a separate local licensing committee when, it said, the current planning system was sufficiently adequate to manage the licensing process.
Committee chairman, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, commented: “It was a mistake and a missed opportunity to set up new licensing committees when the planning system was already available to regulate the use of land for many different purposes.
“The planning system is well suited to dealing with licensing applications and appeals, and the interests of residents are always taken into account. The committee was shocked by some of the evidence it received on hearings before licensing committees. Their decisions have been described as ‘something of a lottery’, ‘lacking formality’, and ‘indifferent’, with some ‘scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors’.”
The report follows a consultation with a number of sources which have either been directly or indirectly affected by the Licensing Act, including the late night food and drinks sector, the police and the Home Office.
Recommendations contained in the report included:
Power to planning committees: The committee concluded that planning committees are better equipped and more effective in making licensing decisions and will therefore take over the functions of licensing committees and sub-committees. A pilot scheme will be run to trial this. It was also suggested that in the future, licensing appeals should be dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate rather than magistrates’ courts.
Protection of music venues against new development: The committee suggested that if a property developer constructs or converts a building next to a music venue, it must take responsibility for ensuring the new development can co-exist with that venue by, for example, paying for soundproofing if noise may be an issue for the new neighbours.
Disabled Access Statement: A recommendation to include a statement relating to disabled access and facilities with new premises licence applications.
Fees for applications: The committee suggested licensing fees should be set locally and not nationally.
Early Morning Restrictions: the repeal of early morning restriction orders (EMRO) and late-night levies.
It remains to be seen whether the Government will take forward the committee’s recommendations which many sections of the planning industry agree could change the face of the licensing regime.