Council challenged over public health change to licensing

camden lock

A local authority has been challenged over plans to start including public health as a factor in making decisions about licences for bars and pubs.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has expressed concerns that Camden Council in London intends to use licensing as part of its efforts to improve public health, pointing out that the 2003 Licensing Act was not intended for this purpose and that it contradicts previous Government decisions.

Its concerns are featured in a detailed submission to Camden’s consultation on its draft licensing policy, which closes today. The local authority covers not only Camden, including Camden Lock (pictured), but also Hampstead, Highgate, Kentish Town, King’s Cross, Bloomsbury and parts of Holborn and Covent Garden.

The BBPA also questions the value of Camden’s proposed Late Night Levy, which is an additional fee paid by all premises licensed to sell alcohol and operating within hours set by the council between midnight and 6am.

Describing the Late Night Levy as “a new tax on local businesses”, the BBPA points out that this approach has been rejected by other councils in recent months. With only 30% of funds raised going to the local council, Milton Keynes abandoned plans to introduce a levy, and Cheltenham repealed its scheme, moving towards a partnership with local businesses through a Business Improvement District (BID).

The BBPA has also raised concerns about proposals over the sale of higher-strength beers and cumulative impact policy evidence.

BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “I hope Camden listens to these concerns as pubs are vital to the local economy. Camden’s draft policy is far too specific a tool to be effective in promoting wider public health objectives, which should be done through targeted campaigns and raising public awareness.

“Powers under the licensing regime are rightly focused on dealing with issues in and around specific premises, such as public nuisance, crime and public safety. A Late Night Levy is not a partnership, but a tax.

“I hope Camden will consider a more partnership-based approach, through schemes such as Business Improvement Districts, Pubwatch and Best Bar None, which encourage businesses, the council and police to work together to share best practice and promote a safer drinking environment.”

Camden’s proposed Late Night Levy was also challenged by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) when it was first announced earlier this year. The ALMR’s chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “Clearly this development will have a knock-on effect for businesses, their employees and the area at large. We are also fearful that the additional costs may jeopardise the future of voluntary partnership schemes which have been successful in significantly reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.”

In its consultation, the council said: “We believe that the Late Night Levy can be used to reduce the impact of crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour during the levy hours, and improve the local environment.”

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