Headlines: March 21st, 2005

Pubs and bars are being warned by local government leaders that they could find themselves temporarily out of business unless the number of applications being made under the new licensing regime picks up quickly. The Local Government Association is reminding the licensed trade that under the new legislation all pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and takeaways have until August to make a new application.The LGA is concerned about the impact and affects of businesses’ failure to apply and of a late rush of applications flooding into councils. It is making it clear that the new law means all premises have until August 6th to apply to transfer their existing licenses – regardless of their current expiry dates and irrespective of whether they intend to make any changes to their opening hours. It is the first time that takeaways outside London will have to apply for premises licenses.

The LGA and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services fear a flood of applications in the final weeks before the August deadline. They are warning that businesses that do not apply within this period will lose their ‘grandfather rights’, and will no longer have the right for a licence to be granted unconditionally. At the same time businesses that do not have a licence when the new regime comes into effect in the year will face prosecution if they continue to trade.

Local authorities are also worried that if a lot of applications are made close to the deadline there will be added pressure on licensing authorities because the legislation says variation applications not dealt with within two months will be deemed to have been refused.

By the end of last week Westminster City Council had received only 27 licence applications from 3,600 licensed premises, Camden Council had received just two from its 1,700 licensed premises and Hertsmere Borough, St Helen’s, Chester City and East Herts councils had received no applications. With many bars and pubs also choosing to vary their licenses as well as converting them, the task could be even more overwhelming.

Geoffrey Theobald, Chairman of LACORS said many councils were going out to encourage applications and guiding applicants through the process but he was fearful that there would be a rush towards the end of the transition period. Bryony Rudkin, who chairs the LGA’s Safer Communities Board, said, “There are further implications given that local businesses which lose their grandfather rights may find themselves with a real headache when they do eventually apply. Without the unconditional acceptance of previous rights they had, many premises may have difficulties obtaining their operational licenses at all and risk finding themselves out of business