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The Shape of Licensing Applications to Come? London Borough Goes Hi-Tech, but are Residents Left in the Dark?
By Christopher J Sherliker

Many local authorities already allow pub, restaurant and other licensed business owners to apply online for licences. Now Camden Council have taken this a step further and have stopped sending letters out to residents living near to premises subject to a licensing application.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Property and Licensing Partner Maria Guida and Legal Intern Ruby Sergiou examine the issues…

The London Borough of Camden, which includes parts of St Pancras and the West End, Belsize Park, Bloomsbury, parts of Covent Garden, Fitzrovia, Hampstead, Holborn, Kings Cross, Primrose Hill, West Hampstead and, of course, Camden Town itself, has embraced technology to deal with its licensed premises applications.

The licensing consultation process is the 28-day period during which the local authority consults with members of the public regarding any licensing application for things such as the sale of alcohol, outside tables and chairs, nightclubs and late night refreshment venues.

Until 28th April 2011, households within 50 metres of any Camden venue subject to a new licensing application would receive a letter from the council informing them of the application and giving them an opportunity to comment.

Now, for the first time in the UK, the London Borough of Camden has changed the procedure by ceasing all postal consultations. Instead, Camden residents now have to register with the council for text and email alerts. A resident can provide their mobile phone number and email address to the council and can sign up to receive text message or email alerts each time an application is received in their area. The council also emails a weekly list containing all new licensing applications to all Camden’s libraries.

These days, technology is essential to many of us. As we organise our lives through a computer or smartphone, receiving notifications by email or text seems practical, easy and fast. Camden Council certainly believes its licensing consultation process is an improvement and is now “faster and easier”. Oddly enough, it doesn’t cite cost cutting as a reason for stopping sending out letters, but that may well have played its part.

Residents groups such as the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association are not happy about the change. They say that Fitzrovia receives one licensing application a month and that the neighbourhood is under great commercial pressure. Not everyone uses technology, and some residents may not even have a mobile phone or access to a computer or the internet. This recent procedural change will exclude them from the consultation process.

The population ranges from the tech savvy to the technophobe, so expecting all residents to actively look out for licence applications or sign up to computer or mobile phone alerts may not be workable. There is a danger that people may not even realise there is a need to sign up to these alerts. As a result, some applications could slip through the net and be approved without residents being properly consulted.

Camden licensees and would-be licensees should not crack open the champagne just yet, thinking that their applications are going to slip by unnoticed, however! If the Government’s proposed changes to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill are adopted, anyone would be able to object to a licensing application, regardless of where they live or work, by simply signing up to the alerts. Inevitably, this would raise the number of complaints even from non-residents; the administrative burden of dealing with the vast amount of responses would increase and licensing applications could be faced with increasing opposition.

Added: 1st June 2011

Christopher J Sherliker is a partner for Silverman Sherliker LLP who provide legal solutions across a spectrum of requirements.  Find out more about Silverman Sherliker LLP.

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