Westminster’s Licensing Policy consultation proposals explained

Westminster City Council (WCC) is required to review and revise (if necessary) its Licensing Policy by 6 January 2021.

It has determined to maintain its current policy by and large, subject to some key changes. As explained on the Council’s website, its proposals are out within a consultation paper (that can be downloaded below) and responses must be received by 15 November 2020.

It is interesting to note from a Cumulative Impact Assessment published by WCC (that you can also download below) that its approach may have been more draconian had it not been for Covid-19, for example expanding the current Cumulative Impact Area and implementing further restrictions on other premises uses within this area.

It has instead adopted a pragmatic view, recognising that implementing significant change to the Licensing Policy could add to the uncertainty and the difficulties that the hospitality and entertainment sector is currently facing.  The current policy approach “where possible” will therefore continue which WCC believes will provide a stable policy background for all stake holders.

Nevertheless, some key changes are proposed. They include:

  1. amendments to the wording of the Licensing Objectives policies,
  2. changes to the boundaries of the existing Cumulative Impact Areas,
  3. revised ‘Core Hours’ coupled with a new framework based on the use of the premises,
  4. a new set of Special Consideration Zones and
  5. an expansion of the permissive policy on theatres, cinemas, performance and cultural venues.

We address each of these proposed changes below.

1. Revised Policy Framework for the Licensing Objectives

WCC feels that the requirement for applicants for new licences or significant variations to promote the licensing objectives is not sufficiently emphasised and the wording of the policy will therefore be amended to take account of this, more specifically:

“The Licensing Authority will only grant applications that can demonstrate that they will promote the prevention of crime/public safety/prevention of public nuisance/protection of children from harm licensing objective.” 

Various criteria are set out which will be applied when considering if the relevant objective has been met by the applicant.  It is felt that the wording is a “subtle change” in how the policies are currently framed which will place more emphasis on the licensing objective policies thereby allowing the Licensing Authority to fulfil its duties under the Licensing Act 2003.

It is also proposed that the safeguarding of children is added as a key consideration to the policy and additional safeguarding of children criteria have been added to the policy.

2. Removal of Cumulative Impact Areas

Following the most recent research, there is no longer evidence to support the retention of the Cumulative Impact Areas for Edgeware Road, Queensway, Bayswater and an area to the East beyond Covent Garden and they will no longer be subject to the Cumulative Impact Policy.

The proposed removal of these areas from the policy means that there will no longer be a presumption to refuse new licence or significant variation applications in these locations.  However, see the proposed designation of these areas as ‘Special Consideration Zones’ below.

3. Changes to the Core Hours Policy

The current Core Hours Policy designates premises as those which sell alcohol on the premises, off the premises or whether other licensable activities are provided, such as by theatres and cinemas.  New licence and significant variation applications are more likely to be granted if the Core Hours are adopted.

The proposal is to change the framework of the Core Hours to relate to the premises use type in order to make it clearer which hours relate to which premises type.  The proposed ‘use’ categories for on licences are as follows:

    • Pubs and bars, Fast Food and Music and Dance venues (inside or outside the West End Cumulative Impact Area)
    • Restaurants (inside or outside the West End Cumulative Impact Area)
    • Cinemas, Cultural Venues and Live Sporting Premises (inside or outside the West End Cumulative Impact Area)
    • Hotels
    • Casinos.

Definitions will be applied to these categories for the first time; by way of example:

    • A pub/bar will be defined as premises used primarily for the sale of alcohol for consumption inside the venue and/or for consumption off the premises outside the venue
    • A restaurant is defined as premises providing table service in the form of substantial table meals, prepared on the premises and consumed using non-disposable crockery, with no take away service of food and drink for immediate consumption with the supply of alcohol as an ancillary to the meal.  A bar area may be permitted but alcohol in the supply of alcohol in those areas prior to a meal must also be ancillary to that meal.

The most significant change with regard to the Core Hours Policy is that new core hours for pubs and bars within the Cumulative Impact Area are proposed, being from 10.00 to 21.00 every day. Cinemas, Cultural Venues and Live Sporting events will be allowed to operate from 09.00 to midnight in order to encourage greater diversity and venues where the sale of alcohol is an ancillary provision to the principal purpose.

4. Special Consideration Zones

WCC has identified areas which deserve special consideration because they have high concentrations of licensed premises and significant levels of ‘incidents’, whilst not causing sufficient concern currently so that they should be included in the Cumulative Impact Area.   The proposed Special Consideration Zones are:

    1. West End Buffer (much of the area to the West of Regent Street, down to Piccadilly and north along Oxford Street from Cavendish Square to Tottenham Court Road)
    2. Queensway/Bayswater
    3. Edgware Road
    4. East Covent Garden
    5. Mayfair (Berkeley Street, Berkeley Square and Dover Street)
    6. Victoria

The aim is to set a requirement for applicants to consider the local issues and then propose appropriate mitigation to prevent them from having a negative impact on the area.  Applicants will be expected to address how they will promote the licensing objectives in the usual way but will be required to provide greater mitigation and controls than for premises in other areas.

It is to be noted that the policy will not be a “preventative policy” and is instead to ensure a greater level of scrutiny for sensitive areas that, it appears would otherwise be in the Cumulative Impact Areas.

As indicated above, WCC is consulting on the proposed revision of the Council’s Statement of Licensing Policy and its intention to publish the 2020 Cumulative Impact Assessment at the same time until 15 November 2020.

Consultation responses can be made:

  • using the dedicated online consultation response form here,
  • via email to [email protected] or
  • via post to Licensing Policy Consultation Policy Team – Innovation and Change, 17th Floor, Westminster City Council, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QP

15 November 2020 is a Sunday, so – if you wish to respond to the consultation – make sure you write well in advance of the deadline to ensure that your views are taken into account.

WCC is also holding an online question and answer session for local businesses on Monday 19 October 2020 at 5pm.  Sign up here should you wish to take part.

A similar session is being held for local residents on Monday 26 October at 4pm. They can sign up here if they wish to take part.