So I have today received a reply to my letter querying Sainsbury’s licensing policy with regards to their ‘Local’ stores. It clears up the impression that there Sainsbury’s policies which differed to how their competitors in the ‘local’ supermarket arena promote alcohol. They all advertise it and place it prominently:
To: Jason Kitcat
RE: Query on Sainsbury’s licensing policy
14 January 2011 16:05:51 GMT
Dear Cllr Kitcat,
Many thanks for your email dated 10th January.
When I spoke at the hearing on 21st December I did say that Sainsbury’s Locals do not display alcohol in the shelving immediately by the entrance to the store and that they do not display posters on their exterior to promote alcohol-related deals. I was genuinely under the impression that this was the case.
I now accept that at some locations there will be alcohol displayed close to the store entrance and there may be external advertising of alcohol promotions. I will be writing to each of the Councillors who sat at the hearing to explain the position.
There was no intention to mislead the Committee or other parties to this matter and I apologise for any confusion.
I wrote today to Sainsbury’s solicitor who dealt with their applications in the city. Following Mr Botkai’s comments that Sainsbury’s had a very restrained approach to alcohol sales I wanted to understand why their ‘Local’ stores which I had passed did not meet the policy as it had been explained to me.
Specifically you asserted that, as a matter of national policy:
1. Sainsbury’s Locals do not promote alcohol in the high profile doorway shelves.
2. Sainsbury’s Locals do not have posters on their exterior to promote alcohol-related deals.
I queried this as I had noted a wine promotion in the doorway shelving of Sainsbury’s Local on Western Road near Preston Street. The regional manager with you at the hearing stated this was an error by the store manager, as it was against your policies.
However a few days later (23rd December 2010) I still observed a wine promotion in the doorway of the Western Road (Brighton) store. At the Western Road (Hove) store I again noted an alcohol promotion by the doorway, plus a poster promoting a deal on beer. (Images of these are attached)
I recognise that other stores including Tesco and Somerfield have similar practices of promoting alcohol deals. However, you made specific play of Sainsbury’s responsible licensing policies in relation to placement and promotion at their ‘local’ stores.
Could you clarify for me the status and detail of these policies. Are Sainsbury’s Local stores in Brighton & Hove all in breach of the national policies, or are the policies not as prohibitive as suggested?
This morning I attended a licensing hearing as an objector to McDonald’s application to extend their hours. Their Western Road, Brighton branch wanted to open from 5am Friday morning until midnight Sunday non-stop. They also wanted to close an hour later the rest of the week at midnight. Currently they only operate until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
When I discussed this application with residents they were very concerned. They argued that there would be increased late night nuisance and disorder caused by the longer hours. It’s a sad reflection on the licensing system that they were unaware of the application until I let them know, and of the few that said they’d object only one was received by officers – but a few days past the deadline for receiving objections so it couldn’t even be considered. So it was just the Police and I as objectors — despite our knowing many residents felt strongly about it. The licensing regime has to be made more accessible for residents.
I won’t rehearse all the arguments made at the panel, as it went on for a good 3 hours at least!
A few notes of interest though: As is often the case, the use of a barrister, can be counterproductive. Too often I’ve found that barristers use approaches which might work in a court-room but end up only turning licensing hearings against them. McDonald’s barrister did the same today — though I might add we had a very interesting discussion about councillor code of conduct tribunals as he had read of my experiences with them!
The owner-operator for Brighton McDonalds mentioned at the hearing that his night-time trade had grown 40% in the last 2 years. He also claimed that last year he served 540,000 people at his Western Road branch and 750,000 at his Marina branch. He made great play of the public sector shift workers such as police officers and nurses who use his Marina branch at all hours.
That may well be… but he failed to address the fact that, unlike the Marina, his Western Road branch is in the city’s cumulative impact area. It’s clear to me, as it was to the police, that people otherwise walking home after a long night would be likely to stop if was a McDonalds open there. We know that drunk people emerging from clubs are noisy and if they are queuing, eating or just hanging around with friends they are going to produce that noise in an area bounded by residential streets. We also know that queues for late night food are often a flashpoint for fights. Yet McDonalds had not even suggested having a single member of security staff to proactively manage any problems, just CCTV and a mobile support unit to call if trouble flared up – reactive, not preventative measures.
Thankfully the panel agreed with the Police and I, so the application was refused in its entirety. I think it’s highly likely McDonalds will appeal or submit a revised application.
As a councillor representing Brighton & Hove’s Regency Ward, where the bulk of licensed premises operate, I welcome Cllr Mary Mears’ support for rebalancing the licensing act to be more supportive of residents’ concerns (“Council concern over law” Wednesday October 13th).
However in addition to lobbying Theresa May, Cllr Mears should also speak to her colleagues on the Council’s own licensing committee who repeatedly are observed to be on panels which approve new and extended licenses in the cumulative impact area, in the face of strong objections from residents, councillors and the Police.
Indeed it was the Conservative chair of licensing who led the panel which approved extended hours for ‘Jam’ in Middle Street. This resulted in Sussex Police, for the first time ever, lodging an appeal in court against the council. I’m relieved that the ‘Jam’ case has now been resolved by the hard work of the Police licensing team who have negotiated a new, more restrictive, license.
Those of us working to address the impacts of the licensed trade in the city, including responsible venue managers, would appreciate Cllr Mears spreading the message not just to national government, but to local Tory councillors too.
Cllr Jason Kitcat
Green Councillor for Regency Ward, Brighton & Hove City Council
Licensing issues continue to be a key concern for residents in Brighton city centre, as previously noted. Despite the introduction of a ‘Cumulative Impact Area’ hours continue to get later and it’s a struggle to stop a race to the bottom. I’m really pleased that Police, residents and ward councillors have been working together more closely than ever on licensing issues. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough… For example earlier this week, despite very strong objections from the Police, the council noise team, residents and myself as ward councillor, a panel of licensing councillors agreed to extend the hours and operations for Jam (formerly the Water Margin) in Middle Street. Their decision seemed to run contrary to council’s own policies and furthers the rush to later hours, as it seems only a matter of time before other venues nearby try to extend their hours to keep up with the competition. There’s more in my release.
With limited Police resources, Operation Marble (which handles night-time economy issues Fri-Sat) can only cover so many streets and, at best, runs until 4am. However more and more premises are being allowed to open beyond that, meaning people leaving clubs after the visible Police presence has gone.
The Cumulative Impact Area (CIA) policy is supposed to go a little way to balancing the problem that each license application is supposed to be taken on its own merits. Without the CIA it’s virtually impossible to refuse applications just because there’s already too many licensed venues in an area already. However it’s not enough and East Street is a good example of where a high density of venues in one small area can cause serious problems. We need to preserve Brighton & Hove’s attractiveness for visitors, but we need to do that in recognition that it has an old town centre with a significant residential population.
Working with the residents I’ve created a film of what a Friday night is like for them. Along with the launch of this film I’m calling for a summit to bring together the council, Police, venue managers and residents to find solutions. We’ve already had some small wins by just improving communications between venues and residents. I know we can build on that. Until the licensing laws get properly sorted out by Parliament, we’re going to need a lot more of this kind of joint working to ensure that the needs of businesses, visitors and residents are sensibly and successfully balanced.
The Committee also highlight what is an open secret in the licensed trade, that the Government has been in the pocket of the alcohol lobby. The 2003 Licensing Act was exactly the permissive piece of law that alcohol industry body The Portman Group wanted. The BBC report on the Health Committee’s findings includes strong criticism of the government by MPs, the British Medical Association, the British Liver Trust and Alcohol Concern.
I would say about 70-80% of my casework in the last few months has related to alcohol and licensed premises. The Licensing act is weak and we’re seeing locally a race to the bottom as one venue after another races to the latest opening hours (if they’re already licensed) or raced to become an off-license if not already licensed.
The local Licensing committee (on which I sit) also recently received a shocking report on the “Health Impact Assessment of Licensing” [PDF]. It highlights a sharp local increase in domestic violence whilst under the influence of alcohol and a very sharp increase in the level of alcohol-related hospital admissions — and this excludes A&E admissions.
Indeed it’s strangely inconsistent that this Labour government have appeared to come down hard on smoking whilst failing to recognise the steep costs of irresponsible alcohol consumption.
A while ago I spoke on behalf of residents to a licensing panel considering an application from Sainsbury’s. The supermarket, a very short way from Waitrose, wanted to double its size and so needed to apply for a new license to sell alchohol.
Residents and I were concerned given that the area already has an abundance of places from which alcohol can be bought. Residents suffer from noise, anti-social behaviour, violence and more. It has got significantly worse since the new 2003 Licensing Act came into force.
Sadly the shop was boarded up and under expansion then so I couldn’t do ‘before and after’ shots. But I went in recently to take a look and there seemed to me to be a very significant space devoted to alcohol – see all the pictures on Flickr. The first shelf to greet you on entering the store was promoting half price bottles of wine.
In August this year, while I was on holiday, Sainsbury’s put in to extend the hours of alcohol sales to almost 24 hours. Unfortunately nobody objected to this other than the Council’s Trading Standards*. This is not surprising because beyond a small piece of paper in the window, there is NO requirement to notify people living near premises applying for a license or wishing to vary an existing one. Trading Standards’ concern related to underage drinking, but once a “Challenge 21” scheme was agreed to by Sainsbury’s (a fairly standard condition) the objection was withdrawn and the licensing panel meeting was cancelled.
However the online licensing register still shows the extended license as not having been granted because checks are outstanding. I’m trying to find out what that means but it seems likely that very soon we are going to have a virtually 24hr off-license selling at supermarket prices. The licensing law is completely failing residents and this city – we seem unable to stop the spread of cheap booze nor the harm it is causing people directly or indirectly. When will our MPs step up to push the change my constituents are crying out for?
* As a councillor I can only object to an application if either I personally live or have a business close to the premises in question, or a constituent close by asks me to speak on their behalf. Otherwise I am unable to participate or speak to a licensing panel meeting. This is extremely frustrating.
UPDATE: I have now received confirmation from council officers that the license indeed has been granted to allow sale of alcohol from 6am until midnight and late night refreshment (i.e. hot food) from 23 until midnight. I also clarified the text above to make it clear it won’t be open a full 24hrs a day as the license currently stands. (13/11/09)