Licensing Committee

Licensing Committee review of Every Day shop on Maybury Hill

 

Earlier today I chaired a meeting of Woking Borough Council’s licensing sub-committee, which was called at the request of Surrey Police to review the premises license for the Every Day shop on Maybury Hill. Both the police and trading standards have expressed concern about a number of incidents at the shop, including the sale of alcohol to underage customers, selling alcohol to people who were already drunk, and selling bottles of spirits that were found to have been stolen from nearby supermarkets.

 

During the course of the hearing it became apparent that there was little, if any, training or record keeping at the store. The police also presented substantial evidence of criminal activity taking place at the shop, such as handling stolen goods. It was made very clear to the committee that the standards of behaviour at this premises fell far short of what we would expect from any license holder in the borough. We were also concerned that the shop owner did not inform the court upon his conviction that he was a license holder, as he was required to do, nor did he bring his conviction to the council’s attention.

 

Under these circumstances, it was felt we had no option but to agree with the police’s recommendation that Every Day should have its license revoked. This will hopefully send a strong signal that the council is determined to keep residents safe and that evidence of illegal activity or a serious breach in the licensing standards will be dealt with quickly and firmly.

 

Better protection for taxi passengers in Woking

 

Last night I chaired a meeting of Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee. The main subject on the agenda was improving the safety of passengers using taxis in Woking. There have been a number of incidents recently where people have reported that they felt uneasy in a taxi or thought a driver acted inappropriately. As the licensing authority I am keen that the council does more to improve the comfort and safety of people in Woking who might use taxis, particularly those coming home late at night or women travelling on their own.

 

At the meeting the committee agreed two sets of policies which introduce more stringent measures to prevent taxi drivers with convictions for violent offences or sexual assault from being able to tout for business. The council’s existing policy already states that drivers convicted of assault, robbery or other violent offences will not normally be considered for a taxi license. However, under the changes agreed last night, no person convicted of a sexual offence in the last ten years, such as rape, indecent assault or possession of illegal photographs, will be now allowed to pick up or transport passengers.

 

I am pleased that the committee also approved a paper I authored on the need for a more robust approach to incidents of child sexual exploitation. There has been a lot of work put in by the Government on how to tackle the trafficking of children for abuse, and my discussions with local charities suggests that this terrible phenomenon takes place in Woking as well as other parts of the country. As the body responsible for overseeing the conduct of taxi drivers, I believe the council needs to be aware of the role that taxis can play in both facilitating, and, at the same time, helping to combat incidents of abuse.

 

As a result of my paper being accepted by the committee, council officers will now draw up a draft safeguarding policy for taxi drivers with regards to vulnerable children. The council will also consult with the public on whether to introduce mandatory training in issues around exploitation as a requirement for holding a license. I think this is important since many taxi drivers in Woking come from diverse backgrounds. This means they may be unfamiliar with the law or the warning signs that may indicate when their service is being used to facilitate abuse, and could benefit from education about how they should respond or report any concerns.

 

The new requirements will now be subject to public consultation before being signed off and coming into force later in the spring. In the meantime, if you wish to make a complaint about a taxi journey in Woking or want to raise concerns about a particular driver, you can do so through the council’s website here.

 

Tackling Underage Drinking

 

Last night I chaired a meeting of Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee. The main item on the agenda was a review of the council’s licensing policy framework, which regulates how the local authority handles applications for alcohol, hot food and premises licenses as well as requests for new nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and live music events. The review of the council’s policy in this area is a statutory requirement, and the rules agreed by the committee will stay in force for the next five years before being reviewed agan in 2021.

 

One issue the Licensing Committee was keen to address was that of underage drinking. Surrey Police carried out a number of test purchases earlier in the summer and found that several venues were selling alcohol to those under the legal age limit, including the Tesco Express on Guildford Road, Sanway Store in Byfleet, and Harry’s in Walton Road. Over the course of two test purchase operations, the first involving five premises and the second involving six, all but two of the shops inspected failed to follow the correct procedure.

 

The policy agreed yesterday commits the council to supporting the National Proof of Age Standards Scheme, which is endorsed by the British Retail Consortium and the Trading Standards Institute. It includes a requirement for councils to encourage the use of reliable proof of age measures such as holographic ID cards. Additionally, the Licensing Committee has agreed to write to Surrey Police to request that they increase the number and frequency of unannounced inspections and test purchases, to discourage those shops that continue to flout the rules and sell to underage customers.

 

Review of Bed Bar premises license

 

On Wednesday evening I chaired a licensing sub-committee to review the premises license for the Bed Bar nightclub. The meeting was called by Surrey Police who have expressed concern for some time about the large number of criminal incidents and anti-social behaviour involving the club.

 

Some of the evidence presented to the committee was deeply troubling. In the period since the club’s license was last reviewed, there have been 47 recorded offences inside or just outside the club, including grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm, drunk and disorderly conduct, drug offences, theft, criminal damage and sexual assault. Committee members were told that the real number of offences was likely to be higher as many are currently before the courts and are hence sub judice. We were shown a comparison with other pubs and clubs in Surrey which indicated that there were more incidents at Bed Bar than any other licensed premise in the county.

 

Ahead of the hering we were presented with a catalogue of police witness statements detailing the situation in the town centre in the early hours of the morning in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings. In one incident police descibed seeing a young lady stagger out of Bed Bar and immediately throw up on the ground, while two other girls ran towards Albion Square and vomited into the flowerbeds.

 

As part of the police’s evidence we were shown CCTV footage of a brawl outside Bed Bar on the first weekend in October last year. This was disturbing to watch and showed two or three separate groups fighting with lots of punches being thrown. We were told that this was the closest the police had come to losing control of the town centre and it was nothing more than luck that no member of the public was seriously hurt. The police witnesses seemed unanimous in their view that much of the problems in Woking town centre emanated from Bed Bar and sought a reduction in the club’s operating hours and restrictions on the number of people allowed into the premises.

 

During the hearing, we heard that there had been a change of management at the end of last year, including a replacement designated premises supervisor. The club has adopted a new set of operating procedures and made improvements which includes the adoption of new technology such as ‘ClubScan’ which allows door staff to flag up people who have previously been involved in altercations at the club and refuse them entry. They have also appointed a consultant to advise them on how to lower tensions amongst guests, created a more visible security presence and given additional training to bar staff to help them identify inebriated customers. Their consultant spoke at the meeting and explained why he had been brought in and how he was recommending that the club move forward to address the police’s concerns. He was an impressive witness and gave the impression that Bed Bar was finally beginning to take its responsibilities more seriously.

 

My colleagues and I found it difficult to agree on a recommendation. We have tremendous sympathy for the police and for the work they have to do to maintain order in the town centre, and we gave serious consideration to completely revoking Bed Bar’s license. However, committee members felt the club deserved one final opportunity to put things right. We therefore agreed to reduce their opening hours from 3am to 2am, impose a requirement to stop serving alcohol half an hour before closing time, introduce a no admittance policy after midnight, and place a maximum restriction on 325 guests at any one time.

 

As councillors we cannot tolerate having the worst nightclub in Surrey right in the middle of our borough. We have made clear to Bed Bar’s management that we will no longer tolerate alcohol fueled crime and anti-social behaviour in the town centre at weekends and we expect to see real and immediate improvements.

 

Gorse Hill licensing application

 

On Monday evening members of the Licensing Committee met to consider a request by De Vere Venues for an extension of alcohol hours at the Gorse Hill hotel and conference centre on Hook Heath Road. At present the hotel is licensed to serve alcohol up to 11pm. De Vere submitted an application to increase this to 2am on every night of the week. Permission was also sought to remove some of the conditions attached to the license, which limits Gorse Hill to providing refreshments only to guests and those attending a conference or event at the venue.

 

The application was quite contentious with around forty letters of objection received from members of the public. Most representations centred on what was believed to be an ongoing problem with public nuisance arising from patrons leaving the premises shortly before midnight. Residents complained about general bad behaviour by De Vere guests including urinating in driveways near the hotel, minor damage being caused to parked cars, the theft of signs and dustbins from neighbouring front gardens, and loud talking and arguing on the street for several hours after closing time. The situation was complicated by the fact that many of these issues have not historically been reported to the police or the council’s environmental health team, making it difficult to judge the scale of the problem.

 

The committee was mindful of arguments on both sides, and it was felt that keeping the existing conditions to the license would reassure those who feared that the nature of Gorse Hill would change from a conference venue area to a pub which would admit all comers late into the night. However, we also believed that for a venue offering weddings and overnight events, the current limit 10pm limit on alcohol was too restrictive. Given the real concerns about noise and disruption, the committee felt that 2am was unreasonable for a venue in a quiet residential area such as Hook Heath. It was therefore agreed that the alcohol hours be extended from 11pm to midnight, but only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

 

In making this decision, I recommended to members of the Hook Heath Residents’ Association, many of whom were in attendance at the meeting, that they should reach out and build dialogue with De Vere so that future problems can be addressed amicably. Serious cases of disorder or anti-social behaviour should be reported to the police since this will inform any future review of the venue’s licensing hours.

 

Licensing Committee rejects late night levy and Early Morning Restriction Order

 

A meeting of Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee last week decided against introducing an additional charge on licensed premises in the borough which serve alcohol after midnight.

 

Under powers granted to local authorities under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, councils have the right to impose a charge, known as a late night levy, on pubs and nightclubs that operate into the early hours of the morning, with any money collected being split with the police and used to cover the costs associated with late night drinking.

 

The council also has the power to issue an Early Morning Restriction Order, which would apply retrospectively to all licensed premises and prohibit alcohol sales after a chosen hour.

 

The Licensing Committee has voted to recommend to the Executive that neither a late night levy nor an Early Morning Restriction Order are introduced in Woking at present. This is because of the relatively small number of establishments likely to be affected, and the fact that the sums raised would be small. Any money collected needs to be split with 70% going to Surrey Police and only 30% going to the council. Most councillors agreed that the imposition of a late night levy would be an extra tax on the pub trade at a time when it is already struggling in the current economic climate. Concerns were also raised that declaring an Early Morning Restriction Order would be arbitrary, suggest there is a problem with out of control binge drinking and anti-social behaviour in Woking, and drive patrons to neighbouring boroughs such as Guildford.

 

Out of more than three hundred councils in the country, only ten are considering a late night levy so it was agreed no action would be taken at present, and that it would be best to monitor the situation in the town centre and learn from the experience of other councils before revisiting the use of these powers in the future.

 

Taxi Trade Task Group recommendation on emission standards

 

Last night Woking Borough Council’s Licensing Committee considered a report prepared by the Taxi Trade Working Group on the council’s emission standards and vehicle replacement policy for licensed taxis. The Licensing Committee appointed myself, Cllr Anne Murray and Cllr Ken Howard to the Task Group in June to investigate concerns raised by the taxi trade about the introduction of the Euro 5 emission standards and NCAP 5 safety rating for all licensed taxis from 6th January 2014.

 

The Task Group held a public consultation throughout September and met earlier this month to consider the representations it received, as well as a petition submitted to the council by Cllr Muzzafar Ali which requested a two year delay before the new requirements were introduced.

 

After a lengthy discussion and having looked at all the evidence, the Task Group has recommended that the decision to bring in Euro 5 in January 2014 should stay in force, but said drivers who do need to change vehicles before the deadline should beneift from that purchase for longer. The Task Group has therefore suggested that the introduction of more stringent Euro 6 standards, originally scheduled for 2018, be pushed back to January 2022. The Task Group will also be recommending that the mandatory CO2 charge that drivers need to pay to fund green projects in the borough be scrapped and replaced with a voluntary levy.

 

The report received strong support from the Licensing Committee and from the Conservative portfolio holder and Liberal Democrat shadow portfolio holder. The committee approved the Task Group’s recommendation by eight votes, with two abstentions. Our report will now go to the Executive for final approval in November.