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Lords report on licensing rules calls for more joined up thinking and strengthened agent of change

By | Published on Monday 11 July 2022

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The Liaison Committee of the UK’s House Of Lords has published a new report reviewing how the government responded to a previous Lords report on the 2003 Licensing Act, which regulates bars, clubs and live entertainment in England and Wales. The new report calls for better communication between different licensing and planning authorities, more training for decision makers, and a review and strengthening of the agent of change principle.

A Lords committee made a number of recommendations regarding licensing laws back in 2017 and the new report looks at what changes have been made since then. Among the priorities for further reform set out in the new report, the Liaison Committee states that: “The government should work with key stakeholders to establish a clear mechanism for the licensing and planning systems to work together and communicate effectively”.

Meanwhile, more should be done to train local councillors who make licensing decisions, with the Lords saying: “The committee reiterated the original inquiry’s recommendations for a minimum training standard to be established for councillors who participate in licensing committee or sub-committee proceedings”.

One area where better communication and more training is needed relates to the agent of change principle, which says that – when property developers put new residential buildings next to existing venues – they need to consider and mitigate any issues that might occur between the venue and future residents, especially relating to noise. That principle was added to National Planning Policy Framework for England in 2018.

However, in their latest review, members of the Lords Liaison Committee heard that the agent of change principle remains somewhat vague and, as a result, is interpreted and implemented differently around the country. To address those inconsistencies, the Lords say that the principle should also be incorporated into so called Section 182 Guidance, which is the guidance the government issues to licensing authorities regarding their responsibilities under the 2003 Act.

Not only that, but the Liaison Committee also states: “The government should review and strengthen the ‘agent of change’ principle and consider incorporating it into current planning reforms in the Levelling-up And Regeneration Bill”.

Responding to the new report, Anne McIntosh – who chaired the Lords committee that produced the 2017 report – says: “Our original inquiry concluded that the Licensing Act 2003 was fundamentally flawed and needed a radical overhaul. It is now five years since we published our findings and we have not seen the progress we had hoped. We urge the government to review our conclusions and recommendations and act now to tackle the issues that remain unresolved”.

The CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, Michael Kill, also wants the government to deal with the various issues raised by both the 2017 report and the new report in relation to the Licensing Act.

“We welcome the follow up report on licensing by the Liaison Committee, but share the disappointment of the committee and industry representatives on the lack of meaningful progress”, he says. “We are experiencing considerable inconsistencies in planning and licensing systems, and in the majority of cases we are still seeing siloed licensing and planning departments not engaging”.

“It is still the case that identical licensing applications presented in different areas would result in different outcomes”, he adds. “This highlights the differences in interpretation of national legislation by key stakeholders, local authorities and responsible authorities”.

Welcoming other recommendations in the new report, Kill continues: “We commend the report for highlighting the need for further training for councillors, local authority and police licensing officers, particularly on industry specific knowledge and culture. It is also encouraging to see included within the report the continued recommendation that the agent of change principle be included within planning and licensing legislation to protect businesses and residents”.

You can read the full new report here.