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JD WETHERSPOON: PUB CHAIN LOSES LICENCE CASE

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High Court licensing success helps Guildford hotspot...
High Court licensing success helps Guildford hotspot

A landmark decision in the Royal Courts of Justice has upheld Guildford BC's application of its policy regarding extended licensing hours.

JD Wetherspoon applied for a three-hour extension, for every night of the week, to its existing licence for Lloyds No 1, Rodboro Buildings in Bridge Street, Guildford. The council's licensing sub-committee refused this request, supported by the concerns expressed by the police regarding crime and disorder and public nuisance in this part of the town centre.

Under the licensing policy, Bridge Street is a designated 'cumulative impact area' due to its high concentration of bars and nightclubs. Any applicant for a new licence or 'material variation' to an existing licence has to prove that it will not increase this impact. The JD Wetherspoon application to extend drinking hours was judged to be a 'material variation' of the existing licence within this sensitive area. JD Wetherspoon did not agree with this interpretation of Guildford Borough's new policy and applied for judicial review by the High Court.

JD Wetherspoon have agreed to pay the council's legal costs of approximately£23,000 in defending this claim.

Guildford licensing committee chair David Wright says: 'We are extremely pleased that the High Court has ruled that we applied our policy in the correct manner. This will have a positive impact on our community and will also support the efforts of other local authorities wishing to maintain law and order in their city centres.

'Bridge Street has no spare capacity for new licence applications and the only other option for licensees is to apply for longer hours for existing licences. This ruling will ensure that the council, together with the police, will be able to carry on using the policy to effectively control licensing activity in this area of the town and help make Guildford a safer place for everyone.'

In charge of policing West Surrey Division, chief superintendent Kevin Deanus, says: 'Surrey Police supported the designation of Bridge Street as a 'cumulative impact area' and objected to the extension of existing licensing hours. We welcome this decision which will help the efforts of Surrey Police to reduce alcohol-related disorder and anti-social behaviour in the town, as well as protecting the community. Guildford is a vibrant town which has so much to offer. This decision will not only ensure that people are safe, but also feel safe'.

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Report from today's High Court hearing follows.

A judge has ruled Guildford BC were entitled to refuse a late-night licence for a pub in an area blighted by binge-drinking.

In August last year the council declined a late-night licence for JD Wetherspoon Plc's 'Lloyds No 1' pub in Rodboro Buildings, Bridge Street, Guildford in light of police concerns about controlling the 'already demanding area'.

The pub fell foul of the council's licensing policy on 'cumulative impact', which pinpointed Bridge Street as an area of key concern due to its 'concentration of late night and drink-led premises'.

The Bridge Street area was seen as being under 'increased stress' due to 'serious problems of crime, disorder and public nuisance'.

Such fears had prompted the borough council to frame a 'special policy' against granting extended licences unless there were exceptional circumstances.

And it underpinned the council's final decision to refuse JD Wetherspoon's application in respect of 'Lloyd's No1', turning down a request for the 850-capacity pub to be allowed to open until 2am.

However, the company's lawyers challenged the council's stance at London's High Court in a case which was said to raise questions of 'general and national importance' about local authorities' powers to control late-night drinking.

Barrister Richard Beckett, for the pub chain, argued the council were effectively enforcing the old 11pm closing times via the backdoor.

He also said that the 'special policy' could not be applied to pubs or bars already in existence and merely seeking an extension of licensing hours.

But today Mr Justice Beatson found in favour of the council, dismissing JD Wetherspoon's judicial review challenge.

He ruled that the council were entitled to apply its special to Lloyd's No1.

And the judge said it was not 'unreasonable' of the council to have taken into account that extending the opening times of Lloyd's No1 would disrupt the current 'staggered' closing times in the area.

Pubs and bars close between 11pm and 2am in Bridge Street, and Mr Justice Beatson said allowing JD Wetherspoon's application would 'narrow the range of terminal hours'.

Concluding that Lloyd's No1 fell under the 'special policy', the judge added that the council had heard evidence from the police that Bridge street would become a 'magnet' for people who wanted to drink in Guildford.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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