Pint for planning?

by Mark Kerr, partner, Newgate Engage

So the House of Lords thinks that decisions about licensing the countries pubs, clubs and restaurants and about those who sell us booze in an increasing number of retail outlets, should in the future be managed by our councils’ planning committees.

Peers think that the Councillors and council officers who pontificate and determine planning applications make better decisions and are better qualified than those of their colleagues who have been looking at licensing matters since 2005.

Our draconian booze laws – once with very limited opening hours and limited numbers of pubs – were brushed aside by the comprehensive changes in the 2003 Licensing Act which introduced the much lauded café-culture and an anticipated more responsible 24-hour drinking regime.

A key element of this policy shift was moving responsibility for administration from Justices of the Peace in the Magistrates Courts to elected Councillors in Local Authorities.

But it seems Peers found there was “shocking and damming evidence” on the workings of some local licensing committees. That said, the evidence was given by the pub industry which cannot be seen as entirely neutral.

I wonder how your average planning applicant would view the way his or her application was handled by council planning officers and the august politicians adjudicating on the planning committee? I very much doubt they would view it as perfect in every (or any?) way.

And amongst other things the Government’s recent Housing White Paper highlighted the inadequate funding of councils’ planning departments and the need to increase fees to improve the service. In a seemingly unholy alliance even the development industry seems prepared to pay more to get substantially quicker and presumably better decisions on their planning applications.

It’s odd because as a “bricks” rather than “clicks” industry, leisure and hospitality businesses have large property estates and must have been exposed to the planning regime.

Assuming that is the case, things must be very bad if not horrendous in council licensing committees for them to want to voluntarily to jump out of the local council licensing frying pan into the fire that is local council planning.

A stiff drink will be required by all concerned.

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