Councils confident on late licence bids

22 August 2005
Councils confident on late licence bids

Local authorities are confident they can cope with the last-minute deluge of applications to convert or vary alcohol licences.

Despite having a two-month window to process forms and hold hearings where there are objections to vary opening hours, most councils contacted by Caterer said they would get through the paperwork.

Licensing officers at Nottingham, Sheffield, Camden, Newcastle and Westminster councils said they were overworked but had planned far enough in advance to deal with the cases. A Sheffield council spokeswoman said: "We had planned for the worst-case scenario, but we're confident that we will get through the hearings that are block-booked until the end of September."

Licensing minister James Purnell has written to every local authority chief in the country urging them to deploy their resources effectively.

But some local authorities have been stretched too far. Bromley council in London has dismissed 23 out of 63 applications to extend opening hours without a hearing because there was no time to process the requests.

Although councils must hold hearings if police or local residents object to extended hours, the south London authority said it was impossible within the statutory period because it was swamped by last-minute applications. Head of commercial services Clive Davison said the authority had already budgeted for another five admin staff. "We can't take any more money from a pot that doesn't exist," he added.

Applications to vary hours are automatically rejected if the local authority doesn't process the application within two months. Craig Baylis, partner at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, believes JD Wetherspoon, which had three submissions turned down in Bromley due to the lack of time, has grounds for appeal.

"There were objections to the applications by the police, but they have since been withdrawn. We're not being given time to negotiate the objections away," he said. "If no objections are received, the local authority must grant the application. We're dealing with two bits of conflicting statute."

Baylis is currently launching an appeal through the magistrates' court, which he estimates will cost Wetherspoon's about 2,000.
Norwich city council has also thrown out five out of 235 applications to vary opening hours without a hearing, because of a lack of time.

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