Council licensing powers – caution urged
The proposal allows city & county councils include objectives in their Development Plans relating to regulating, restricting or controlling the development of licensed premises.
“Pubs, off-licences and nightclubs are a normal feature of any town or city in Ireland,” stated Minister Frances Fitzgerald TD recently, “However in some towns and cities we’re seeing an unsustainable proliferation of off-licences along single streets or in historic or tourist areas.
“This is leading to concerns about the attractiveness and commercial vitality of these areas as well as prompting fears regarding drinking in public places and public order.
Minister of State Paudie Coffey added, “I’ve worked closely with my colleague Minister Fitzgerald to deliver this in the heads of the planning and development bill. This proposed change will provide for greater alignment between the planning and licensing systems and will give communities, through their councillors, a say in local policies on provisions of new licensed premises.”
Commenting on the announcement NOffLA’s Government Affairs Director Evelyn Jones stated, “NOffLA welcomes any provision by the Government that encourages the responsible retailing and consumption of alcohol, however “ she warned, “it’s important that a differentiation be made between retail outlets specialising in the sale of alcohol and those mixed traders who retail it as part of a broader offering and as a means to drive footfall to sell other dearer grocery products”.
She also warned, “It’s important to note that it’s the job of government to regulate the industry and transferring power to local authorities may lead to local commercial circumstances impacting on the decision to award planning for new licensed premises”.
And VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben urged caution in the implementation of any such power by city or county councils.
“Current Licencing law is primarily based on a system of control exercised by the Courts,” he pointed out, “This has, by and large, served its purposes well and Legislators should be slow to tamper with it.
“The current proposal relates to Development Plans for the future and is narrow in its definition. We would not like to see it expanded beyond this.”
In LVA Chief Executive Dónall O’Keeffe’s opinion, the licensing regime has lost control so the LVA is naturally concerned about its proliferation.
For some time now the LVA has been making representations to government about the lack of control on off-licensing regimes everywhere and has been engaged on this planning issue for licences to seek to make it a requirement to apply for planning permission before being cleared to seek a licence.
In 2005 there were 2,900 off-licences in the country. As of September last year there were 3,280.
“There should also be a requirement to have planning permission in place before you apply for a pub licence,” stressed Dónall O’Keeffe, “Currently, one can get the licence first and then come back for planning permission. It’s the same for off-licences.