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Licensing for the future: residential areas vs the night time economy

Leenamari Aantaa-Collier, legal director and planning specialist and David Ollivere, associate and licensing specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, discuss how council planning departments can adapt to a changing night time economy.

With the advent of the night tube, pop-up restaurants and 24-hour bars, it is undeniable that London is on its way to becoming a city that never sleeps. However, as this phenomenon spreads across the country, and the growing population causes a spike of inner-city residential developments, a battle would seem to be playing out for the heart of Britain’s urban environments. So how can the bustling night-time economy and the tranquil residential communities learn to live together?

Nightlife of all varieties makes up a vital part of the UK’s economy, with an estimated annual revenue of almost £70 billion. This is only set to increase in the coming years, with shifting consumer habits changing both the types of outlets and the range of options on offer. More and more consumers are choosing to order food in rather than cook and have expressed a greater interest in experiences than goods.

This has led to the rise of pop-up shops, restaurants and bars – limited-time experiences that offer something convenient and different, often outside of conventional nightlife areas. Sometimes these are included as part of temporary food courts, which combine a number of different eateries into one collection of outlets.

Deliveroo ‘Editions’ kitchens, colloquially known as ‘super kitchens’, are also starting to emerge across the country. These are purpose-built kitchens, in which restauranteurs can produce their own food alongside one another for delivery only.

However, perhaps the biggest change in recent years has been the vast number of urban developments merging residential areas with nightlife. This is not only due to high demand in suburbs for accessible nightlife and food deliveries but is also accounted for in the number of residential developments entering city centre areas, which were previously solely commercial districts.

This is certainly a sound idea in theory, but in practice serious issues can arise. Concerns are rife, regarding noise levels, disturbance and public safety, considering the importance of maintaining the ambience of residential areas. Should the local authority notice an increased level of disturbance or become party to persistent complaints from locals, this could result in the permanent closure of otherwise successful venues.

Issues such as this are avoidable, and a central role of planning and licensing authorities is to stop them from occurring. Licensing is determined largely by the Licensing Act 2003, which established a single integrated scheme for licensed premises throughout England and Wales. This requires any licensee to abide by not only the terms of their specific agreement, but also four general principles. These include the prevention of crime and disorder, the assurance of public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. Beyond this, separate councils often adopt additional policies specific to the areas over which they hold jurisdiction.

However, the lack of cohesion, communication and collaboration between planning authorities and licensing authorities means that the system often ends up working against itself. The policies of each authority often contradict each other on what level of noise is deemed to be a disturbance and by failing to consult with one another, licensing and planning departments can end up signing off on a project without full awareness of what the other has agreed to. A proposed venture can have a 24-hour licence while planning permission was given on the understanding that they would be closed by 23:00, a potential huge difference to the level of noise nuisance emanating from the establishment.

This is not always the case – some councils, such as Cardiff, have adopted a more joined-up approach where both departments regularly consults with one another on issues around licensing and noise disturbance. However, in many cases without proper communication, planning permission may be given for a restaurant in the heart of a housing district, without realising that a license has been given for it to be a ‘super kitchen’. Far from being an ordinary restaurant with a similar level of noise pollution, these tend to be on industrial sites near residential areas, with a vast number of vehicles coming and going throughout the night to make deliveries.

This also means that proper mitigation measures aren’t considered at the earliest possible opportunity, which can be critical. There are a number of fairly simple solutions to combat noise pollution from nightlife venues which can be put in place with minimal investment of time and resource. These include sound dampening foyers to seal out noise, soundproofing insulation and even sound systems that can direct music to specific areas of the venue, where it is less likely to disturb residents.

Other measures could include double glazing on any new residential developments in nightlife-heavy areas and the use of electric mopeds, rather than petrol or diesel motorbikes, to diminish the noise pollution coming from ‘super kitchens’ and other delivery hubs. Planning authorities should be looking to enforce Section 106 agreements upon developers where any planned residential builds are likely to impede on or be impeded by local nightlife, making sure that the necessary mitigation strategies are put in place to avert this.

If this were to happen more often, the two departments would be able to greater recognise any potential issues ahead of time and work to avoid them. In 2017 the House of Lords published a report into the Licensing Act 2003, recommending that different branches of councils should try to coordinate their efforts. However, no formal legislation was passed. To see any genuine change, joint working between planning and licensing departments should become part of the official process and a legal requirement across the board.

For any party that is interested in starting up a business to service the night time economy and is looking for both planning approval and a service licence, it is important to make sure planning and licensing applications are assessed in conjunction with one another. The council as a whole will need to understand the venture from every angle, to make an informed judgment as to its long-term viability and potential impact on the local community. This will help to ensure that plans aren’t being approved and businesses set up only to be shut down for disturbing local residents.

The night time economy and residential areas should not be considered mutually exclusive and should instead work together to benefit the wider community. If councils properly appreciate the importance of a joined-up approach to planning and licensing, and put in place any necessary noise nuisance mitigation strategies, then business can continue to thrive without disturbing the peace.

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