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4am Approval

4 am approvalWith a couple of minor changes, Fylde has granted the applications for 'Toast' and 'The Loft' on Wood Street in St Annes to remain open as late as 4am.

Without doubt, this was a very bad decision made by FBC's 'Licensing Panel'

Readers who've been with us from the beginning will remember that late opening of a nightclub - and the subsequent trouble that ensued for the community - was the reason that counterbalance began in the first place (see Nightclubs Should Pay')

They will also remember the tragic loss of life of a young man who went to assist and intervene in a night time altercation at the top of the steps on The Crescent, after the nightclub had closed and ejected its patrons onto the streets, and was himself struck down and subsequently died from injuries sustained as a result of his 'Good Samaritan' act.

We would not be surprised to find his relatives shaking their heads in disbelief at the decision Fylde has made, and at the support given to the plan by Cllr Edward Nash who (we assume) is ignorant about it, having not been here when the assault took place.

So when we first heard that the applications to open the nightclub on Wood Street until 4am had been approved by Fylde we were shocked, and were ready to vilify those that had made the decision.

We asked who it was that had come to this view, and were told by someone who (unlike us) was able to be present at the hearing, that it was three unknown Fylde Councillors from the rural area who don't have St. Annes interests at heart. (Our informant's words, not ours).

In fact it was Cllr David Donaldson (Conservative) who represents Fairhaven, Cllr Susan Ashton (Conservative) who represents Warton and Westby, and Cllr Keith Beckett (Independent) who represents Kirkham North.

This is pretty much a 'Second Eleven' team put in to bat as panel members. We've yet to hear either Cllr Donaldson or Ashton speak in a Council meeting, and whilst Cllr Beckett is competent and more experienced, we're pretty sure he would not describe himself as a leading light amongst the Independent councillors.

Fylde holds a pool of potential Licensing Panel members from which it 'selects' three for each actual Panel.

Panel members can be (and are), different people on different occasions. We're not sure how Fylde's 'selection' process actually works, but we do know that on this occasion, several potential members said they did not wish to be considered for selection, or were otherwise unavailable.

This included councillors from St Annes who could, and in our view should, have represented their residents better by taking part on this panel - but several declined to offer themselves for selection.

That's despite people like Cllr Christine Akeroyd whose details in the minutes of St Anne's on the Sea Town Council were corrected to show she was a member of the Fylde Borough Licensing Panel but she was recorded as having specifically made 'no observations' when the Town Council considered the applications from 'Toast' and 'The Loft' before making its view known to Fylde Borough.

There was therefore no impediment to her discharging the duty she owed to her electorate by being a panel member at FBC on this occasion. Several other Borough Councillors representing St Annes could also have taken part.

We think that if dual-hatted councillors like Cllr Akeroyd (Both Town Council and Borough Council members) are not prepared to speak up for the residents that elected them, its a very poor show. And as for Cllr Edward Nash - who is also dual hatted - we regard his position in this matter as absolutely appalling. He wrote in favour of the application - and he represents Central Ward, the very ward where residents living above the shops are disturbed.

We still believe the 'Second Eleven' were wrong in the decision they came to. Fundamentally wrong.

But they were also, in a way, right.

Our readers might wonder how that can be. How can it possibly be a right decision when the Police objected and advised against it, Two Police and Community Together meetings representing residents in Central Ward, Ashton Ward and St Leonard's Ward also objected, the St Annes on the Sea Town Council raised concerns, the St Annes Chamber of Trade raised concerns; Town Councillors Barbara Mackenzie and Carol Lanyon wrote to object to the application, and Fylde's own Environmental Protection Department said it did not support the extension of hours on the basis of noise disturbance.

They might be even more perplexed how it could be approved when the Council's own Licensing Policy says:

'The Borough of Fylde has a duty under the terms of the Act to carry out its functions as a Licensing Authority with a view to promoting the following four licensing objectives:

  • the prevention of crime and disorder;
  • public safety;
  • the prevention of public nuisance; and
  • the protection of children from harm

These licensing objectives are of all equal importance and are the only matters which may be taken into account by the Licensing Authority.' [Our emphasis]

If those four are the only matters which may be taken into account, how can it possibly be right that approval was given to extend opening hours to 4am and against such cogent and united opposition to the application?

We're told by those who attended the meeting that part of the reason was  the Licensing Panel members seemed to think that they were only assessing the four licensing objectives in respect of the interior of the premises - in other words they did not appear interested in anything that happened outside the premises. If people left the premises and then caused problems for the community - noise, disturbance, damage, vomiting and urinating in shop doorways and so on - that was not a reason to refuse the application.

That is a patently ridiculous position to adopt if that is what they believed.

But there is another reason why approval was always likely to be given, and why Fylde has once again let down its residents.

That is its Licensing Policy.

It was prepared in the days of the former Commissar - and it intentionally set out to restrict the ability of people to make objection to applications.

It says:

'Local residents and businesses, in the vicinity ... of the premises subject to the application (known as ‘Interested Parties’) or their representatives are free to raise relevant representations.'

It goes on to say that if representations are received which relate to a potential detrimental affect on one or more of the licensing objectives, and that representation is not supported by evidence, it will be accepted, but the weight attached to unsubstantiated representations will be limited.

In reality, what this says is that a representation without specific evidence will be received and recorded, and we will say we have taken note of it (so we can't be challenged later), but we will not really take it into account when we come to make the decision.

Believe it or not, it gets worse.

It also says 'The term “in the vicinity” is not defined in the Licensing Act or in the Guidance. In practice, what constitutes “the vicinity of premises” is a subjective issue and will ultimately be decided by the Courts.

However, as a guideline, and in order to ensure clarity of understanding, the Licensing Authority regards the term as meaning a residence or business sufficiently close to the premises to be directly affected by disorder and disturbance occurring or potentially occurring on those premises or immediately outside as a result of the activities taking place.

The process followed to determine if representations are in the vicinity will be to initially determine if the property falls within a radius of 150m from the curtilage of the application premises. Any within that distance will be considered to be within the vicinity. Properties outside this perimeter will be looked at to determine if, in the circumstances of that particular case, they might still reasonably be affected by the licensable activities.'


So, (unless you are a parish, town council, or residents organisation representing residents who live within 150m of the premises) in order to have your representation considered seriously, you have to live within 150m of the premises. That probably excludes people who live further along Wood Street.

What a complete nonsense.

Quite how the Licensing Panel's deliberation could have given rise to the view held by at least one member of the public present that they were only interested in what happened inside the premises when their policy specifically acknowledges disorder outside, remains a complete mystery to us.

But just when you think it couldn't; it gets even worse

After spending five pages warning of the risks and explaining the damaging effects of alcohol on the four (laudable) licensing objectives, Fylde Council's current Licensing Policy then sets off on its own transport of delight by saying...

'In undertaking its licensing functions under the Licensing Act 2003, Fylde Borough Council will aim to ensure that licensable activities make a positive contribution to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of its Borough. The authority wish to see a diverse cultural offering, providing something for everyone, in a safe, healthy and welcoming environment. In particular it supports a mixed night-time economy...'

The awful hand of the former Commissar is still with us.

The confusion that this, and other (later) Licensing Policy statements produce arises because Fylde's Policy mixes the four proper licensing objectives with other irrelevant objectives to do with social inclusion, diversity, human rights and economic development. Fylde's Licensing Policy is an unmitigated disaster - as evidenced by this decision.

So the 'Second Eleven' were right in as much as they followed Fylde's own Licensing Policy - which itself is wrong.

Our view on this matter is very clear.

FYLDE SHOULD NOT HAVE A NIGHT TIME ECONOMY AT ALL.

Full stop.

It should have an evening economy that closes when sensible residents go home to bed - And that's before midnight.

Those that want a night time economy need do no more than ride up to Blackpool where they will be welcomed with open arms. (Although even Blackpool are consulting on pulling back the closing time to 3am).

And we're not the only ones who think there should be an evening economy rather than a night time economy..

As part of its emerging Local Plan, Fylde conducted a huge public survey last year (2012) to ask people what they thought of various aspects of life in Fylde that the Local Plan would address. Responses to the survey are set out in the Preferred Options document that has just been published. The relevant section says...

'Most respondents considered that the existing night time leisure provision is sufficient. Further comments stated that if additional night time provision is provided, this should be low key and located in centres rather than villages. Many respondents stated that night time provision is already provided in nearby Blackpool.'

The responses section concluded: 'As there was less support for increasing the night time economy, this will be promoted as low key and directed towards the town centres.'

And this was the public's response to a proposal in the 'Issues and Options document where Fylde suggested one option it was considering was to 'Enhance the night time economy.'

We suspect if Fylde had asked the question more openly in 2012 - eg "Should there be a night time economy in Fylde" they would not even be saying it was 'sufficient' now, they would be better informed that people wanted an *evening* economy not a night time economy.

And even before the ink is dry on the page of consultation results where people said they do not want the night time economy enhanced, we see opening hours being extended to 4am.

What fools they are.

Just how many times do we have to say it?

NO NIGHT TIME ECONOMY IS NEEDED IN FYLDE

What needs to change is the Licensing Policy that Fylde is working to.

The present Policy runs to 2014 so we can expect to see a new one being prepared very shortly, and it's time to make very big changes to what it says at present.

If the present policy can, override, or in effect, disregard, the objections of the Police, Police and Community Meetings, Chamber of Trade and the Town Council, it simply cannot be right.

We'd like to see a Scrutiny Committee taking ownership of the review process, and inviting views and information from local residents about what needs to be changed in the present policy.

Key issues for us would be the removal of the statement about the positive contribution to the social, economic, and environmental well-being that can be achieved, the removal of support for the 'night time' economy, the removal of such narrow restrictions on who is considered to be 'in the vicinity' (so the definition includes all who are or might be affected by users of the premises); and a clear statement of clarification that Fylde's Licensing Panel *will* take into account concerns about the acts and omissions of those who have left licensed premises when they assess the impact of the application on the community they were elected to serve.

Finally, and on a slightly different tack, we absolutely want to see a 'Late Night Levy' scheme introduced at Fylde.

This would allow Fylde to raise a contribution from late-opening alcohol retailers towards the cost of policing the late night economy. It is a local power that Fylde can choose to adopt for its area. Fylde can also choose the period during which the levy applies, (ie for times between midnight and 6am on each night). Non-exempt premises that are licensed to supply alcohol in this period will be required to pay the levy.

As a start, and we'd like to see it introduced in St Annes for premises that open later than midnight.

Fylde can also apply full cost recovery to license application costs - to set their own fees for licensing regulation costs. This would allow Fylde to include their own direct costs when they calculate fees which will include:-

  • Processing costs and general administration
  • Cost of representations by licensing, environmental health, health and safety and trading standards
  • Meeting costs
  • Cost of enforcement.

If they are not doing this already, they should be.

Furthermore, on what (at first) appears to be a completely separate topic, there has been a hiatus with Club Day support this year because the Police were set to withdraw what has previously been the 'free' service they provided to facilitate the Club Day processions (closing roads, traffic management and so on).

The change was postponed for a year to allow this summer to go ahead, but in future years it is likely that Club Day Committees will have to pay quite considerable sums to the Police to have them provide what until now has been a 'free' service. Some say the very existence of Club Days is threatened.

We think the Police were wrong to seek to implement this change.

Without the support and goodwill of the community they serve, the relationship and trust that is so essential for the Police to secure intelligence and information - will be damaged. There is no better way for the Police to demonstrate that they believe in, they support, and are part of, the local community, than to participate - officially - in its cultural life and its events.

If - as we are led to believe - the idea to start charging arose from pressure on the Police budget, we're curious about how and whether the new Police and Crime Commissioner - whose job is to set priorities and budgeting for the Police - will have something to say about how much of a priority it should be for the Police to take part in the cultural life of the community they serve.

But in any event, we're firmly of the view that those Councillors who complain that charging by the Police will threaten the viability of their club day or carnival, would do well to consider whether decisions such as those made by Cllr Donaldson, Cllr Ashton and Cllr Beckett to allow night clubs to open until 4am - and thus require the deployment of significant police budget resources that could otherwise have been used to support Club Days and Carnivals, have any relationship to each other.

And when they are approving the new Licensing Policy for 2014 onward, Fylde's Councillors might want to bear this dichotomy in mind.

Dated:    21 June 2013


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