Council gears up for new licensing laws

Winchester City Council is gearing itself up for the start of the new licensing laws which are due to start operating in February 2005, when the Council will become responsible for licensing over 500 pubs, clubs, off licences, restaurants and takeaways throughout the Winchester district.

At present, Magistrates' Courts deal with licensing pubs and other premises serving alcohol, while the City Council deals with licensing entertainment. The Licensing Act 2003 abolishes the existing licensing legislation, and replaces existing on and off licences, public entertainment licences and other licences with a new licensing system administered solely by the City Council.

Crime and disorder, public nuisance, public safety and the protection of children from harm are the four key licensing objectives which will influence how the Council deals with applications under the Act.

The traditional hours where pubs and other licensed premises must close at 11.00 pm are being abolished, and the new system is intended to allow longer drinking hours and encourage varying closing times, avoiding concentrations of customers on the streets when pubs all close at the same time. The Government also believe that longer hours will discourage "binge drinking" as customers will not be governed by strict time constraints.

But 24-hour round-the-clock drinking will not be possible unless the Council is satisfied that the four licensing objectives are adequately safeguarded. It has the power to set shorter opening hours for each individual premises, taking into account the licensing objectives and representations, including those from police, local residents and businesses

The Council has produced a Licensing Policy and will be consulting the public and licensees following the Licensing and Regulation Committee meeting on 5 October. The consultation period will run from 6 October until 15 November.

Councillor Robert Johnston, Chairman of the Committee, said that the Council's Licensing Policy will be a blueprint for licensees and the public.

"It sets out what we expect licensees to do in order to avoid problems of disorder and nuisance which might otherwise occur. We are keen to hear from anyone who wishes to comment on the Policy, and will be working closely with the Police and other agencies to make Winchester a safe and welcoming place to visit," he added.

The Licensing Policy will be published for public consultation on 5 October, and copies will be available on the Council's website, and from the City Offices. Comments on the draft policy must be made by 15 November 2004.

Meetings have been arranged for the public and licensing trade to hear about the policy and put their views forward. These meetings will be held at 7.00 pm on Tuesday 12 October 2004 in the Conference Chamber, Winchester Guildhall, and at 7.00 pm on Thursday 4 November 2004 in the Houghton Room, Wickham Community Centre.