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Hackney consultation about licensing policy

July 28, 2015

Every five years, local authorities are supposed to consult local residents and businesses about their licensing policy and Hackney is in the midst of doing this right now. The deadline for making your voice known is August 14th. And further information can be found here.

In the last five years a lot has changed in the borough, and especially in Dalston, with an explosion in the ‘night-time economy’ and the opening of a large number of new bars, restaurants and clubs, from which new fortunes have been made.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find that, this time round, local bar and club owners have launched a well-orchestrated and well-resourced campaign to try to get the licensing policy bent in favour of adding even more lucrative licensed venues. A series of articles in the national, London-wide and local media and strong lobbying of local decision-makers have been pushing a single message: that Hackney Council is trying to close down the night-time economy and with it kill off a range of economic and cultural benefits, stifling creativity and destroying jobs in the area. This message (which we can expect to see repeated in a barrage of formal representations as part of the consultation process) is based on a number of myths which local residents should be aware of.

MYTH NO 1: Late-night licenses will be stopped.

One oft-repeated argument is that it is becoming impossible to have clubs, pubs and bars open late at night. NOT TRUE!

  • Although the introduction of the Dalston SPA in January 2014 made it difficult to obtain licenses to sell alcohol after midnight during the week or 1 am at weekends, this did not affect existing licences. There are a large number of premises in Hackney with licenses to sell alcohol both on (clubs, bars and pubs) and off (off licenses) the premises until 2, 4 and even 5 am. These are not affected in any way by the changes.
  • Furthermore, under new legislation any pub, bar, club or restaurant with an alcohol licence can apply for up to fifteen ‘temporary event notices’ (TENs) per year (up from twelve in the past). These TENs, which are granted without any chance for local residents to object, make it possible to serve alcohol ALL NIGHT.  A proprietor who owns two or three bars or clubs is thus able to have at least one of them open all night just about every weekend throughout the year. You do not have to be a whizz at maths to see that someone who lives within earshot of four or five licensed venues is therefore highly likely to have their sleep disturbed all year round.

MYTH NO 2: It is becoming impossible to get new licenses

A second argument holds that, especially since the introduction of the Dalston SPA in January 2014, it is becoming impossible  to obtain new licenses (and that this will obstruct the kind of continuous innovation and growth that contributes to a lively night-time economy). Again, this is simply NOT TRUE!

Despite the fact that under the terms of the SPA there is supposed to be a ‘presumption of refusal’ when new applications for licenses are made, statistics provided by Hackney Council show that there has been no significant difference in the proportion of licenses granted since the SPA was introduced. We have looked in detail at what happened in Dalston before and after the SPA.

In the first few months of 2014, directly after the introduction of the SPA, there was a brief lull in license applications, whilst local businesses waited to see what the new environment would look like, but they soon started again. In the 18 months from January 2014 to June 2015 there were 23 applications. This compares with an average of 15.6 applications per year between 2009 and 2013, demonstrating that there has been no fall in the pattern of applications –  if anything it has increased slightly.

Of these 23 license applications only three were refused (13%).  This is actually proportionally FEWER than in 2012, before the SPA was introduced, when three out 19 applications (16%) were refused.  These numbers are too small to draw statistically significant conclusions but they do make it abundantly clear that it is still perfectly possible to get new licenses and that the introduction of the SPA has had little or no effect in this respect.

MYTH NO 3: The night-time economy = the creative economy = innovation and growth in Hackney

Another pernicious myth that is often perpetrated by club and bar owners to persuade Hackney Council that the night-time economy should be prioritised over other considerations (such as supporting the day-time economy or listening to the interests of residents) is that the night-time economy (ie the part of the local economy that makes its profits from selling alcohol, along with exposure to loud music and a modicum of food) brings broader benefits to the borough by creating new jobs and by contributing to the growth of a cool creative economy.

The first point to make is that most of the jobs created are not ‘good jobs’ (what the International Labour Organisation calls ‘decent jobs‘) in any recognised sense . The vast majority of jobs in bars, pubs, clubs and off-licenses are relatively precarious, low-skilled and poorly paid: waiters and waitresses, counter staff, bouncers, cleaners and the like. By definition the working hours are anti-social. And the working conditions are challenging, with staff exposed to noise, crowding and smoke and having to deal with threatening behaviour from drunk customers. They are certainly not conducive to a good work-life balance and are not suitable for people with caring responsibilities. And the opportunities for career advancement are poor. Is this really the kind of work that Hackney wants to encourage?

The paragraph above has been misinterpreted as suggesting that all employers in Hackney’s night-time economy are bad employers. We do not wish to imply this. Some, no doubt, are exemplary. What we DO want to draw attention to is that the majority of jobs linked to the night-time economy are not ‘creative’ in any normally accepted definition of the word. Statistics show that jobs in the catering industry are among the lowest paid in the country and are much more likely than average to be

  • insecure (on temporary or zero-hour contracts)
  • paid at or below the minimum wage (with a reliance on tips to bring them up to the minimum level)
  • involving long and anti-social hours.

 This runs contrary to the rhetoric of those currently campaigning for Hackney to ‘relax’ its (very modest) proposals to bring some consistency to licensing hours in the borough. It also runs contrary to the aim of creating decent, sustainable, long-term employment in the borough.

Second, the connection with creativity is tenuous. There are of course venues in Dalston that genuinely bring exciting new cultural experiences. But the vast majority of licensed premises do little more than provide opportunities for their customers to get drunk. The area is home to a large number of artists and people who work in the creative industries, including writers, actors, architects, photographers, film-makers and entertainers, many of whom have created ‘good’ jobs for other Hackney residents,  but – and here is the irony – these are precisely the people who are being driven out by the toxic side-effects of the night-time economy. Unable to cope with the hordes of drunken people on the streets keeping them awake at night and urinating and vomiting on their doorsteps they are voting with their feet and moving to quieter neighbourhoods. If anything is going to destroy the ‘cool’ of the area it will be this exodus, not the failure of the Council to grant ever more licenses to ever more greedy bar-owners. Many of these people are not owner-occupiers, able to cash in on rising house prices, but tenants who moved to the area many years ago because it was affordable.

This extract from a letter received by RCRA last week tells a typical story: ‘

I have been harrassed, assaulted, punched and sexually assaulted at least 5 times in the last 5 years by drunk and aggressive and abusive people drinking during the day and the night. 

Sometimes at night when i return from babysitting for my family I am unable to walk on the pavement due to gangs of drunken yobbos and youths who have even pushed me off the pavement. I have witnessed vomiting, urinating and worse on the street where I live.  … I am sick to death of ASBO drink or drug fuelled behaviour.  Enough is enough. I have seen a huge change in the area in the last 6 years. 

I have decided to move out of the area as i am so fed up of it. 

FINALLY

To avoid the terms of the current consultation being set by the bar owners, it is important that local residents, however weary they may be feeling, make their views known.

TAKE PART IN THE SURVEY

An online survey can be completed here

READ THE DOCUMENTS

A summary of the licensing consultation document can be downloaded from here.

Drop-in Event

The Council has also organised a drop-in event to discuss the consultation from 12.00 to 8.00 pm on Thursday, August 6th at Dalston C.L.R James Library, Dalston Square, Dalston, London E8 3BQ

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