East London late-night levy postponed at last minute

Brick Lane London

Plans to introduce a late-night levy in east London on June 1 have been postponed at the last minute after objections from the licensed trade and a judicial review.

New charges for bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants were due to come in across the London Borough of Tower Hamlets which includes Docklands, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Brick Lane (pictured).

The decision to introduce the levy for licensed premises open beyond midnight was criticised by both the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and a judicial review was lodged last month.

The ALMR, working with licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen, Sarah Clover of Kings Chambers Birmingham and Charles Streeten of Francis Taylor Buildings, challenged significant flaws and failings in the consultation process.

The council accepted that it did not conduct the mandatory consultation on the implementation date for the levy and that its documents were worded in such a way as to confuse consultees and were likely to mislead them.

ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Tower Hamlets Council’s consultation on its late-night levy was flawed and denied businesses in the area a chance to engage knowing all the facts.

“Local authorities are required by law to propose a start date for the levy, which Tower Hamlets did not do. It also showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislation when it stated that any levy would only be applicable to those premises selling alcohol after midnight.

“The council may not have intentionally sought to deceive businesses, but the reality is that the consultation document omitted crucial information that was required by businesses to make an informed decision.

“The ALMR and Poppleston Allen’s work has ensured that a late-night levy was not introduced on the back of faulty procedure. The council will be forced to consult again if it still wishes to introduce the measure in the area.

“The ALMR will be scrutinising any further action by the council and will forcefully oppose any measures that heap additional costs on hard-working venues and threaten jobs and investment in eating and drinking out businesses.”

BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “We had responded to the consultation and urged the council not to go ahead with these plans. Whilst the delay is welcome, I will be urging the council to have a fundamental rethink of the policy, taking the opportunity to reconsider and listen to views of local businesses especially given that a House of Lords Committee has recently published a report criticising the policy and recommending that the late-night levy is abolished.”

The House of Lords committee report regarding the Licensing Act 2003 looked at all aspects of licensing in detail, including levies. The independent committee heard extensive evidence from all parties involved in the licensing system and concluded that “given the weight of evidence criticising the late-night levy in its current form, we believe on balance it has failed to achieve its objectives and should be abolished”.

Brigid added: “For vibrant London boroughs like Tower Hamlets, a damaging new tax on local business is the wrong approach, and the focus should be on partnership working, with the police and local business, to address any issues in the night time economy.”

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