Council plans to alter its licensing policy in the town centre, after several years of strictly applying rules which discouraged new bars, night clubs and pubs to open, failed to get past the first hurdle of last week’s committee meeting when chief executive Jo Negrini failed to staff the meeting with a qualified legal adviser.
Jane Avis, the Labour councillor who chairs the committee, halted proceedings when she was concerned that one of her colleagues, Callton Young, was at risk of slandering the Metropolitan Police over their controversial “bashment ban”, which has been used to block black and Asian music in some of the borough’s night spots.
In September, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, ordered the Met to conduct a review of their 696 form, which many critics have claimed has been used to target black and ethnic minority music venues, which play grime, garage and bashment venues. The police form was introduced in 2005 as a risk assessment for live music to prevent violence.
Last year, Croydon police used the 696 form to enforce a so-called “bashment ban” at the Dice Bar on Croydon High Street, after the Jamaican music was deemed “unacceptable” by the borough’s police.
Roy Seda, the Dice Bar’s owner, said he had been approached several times over the course of a year by officers urging him to stop playing bashment music, which includes chart-toppers such as Sean Paul and Beenie Man.
Michael Emery, the police sergeant responsible for licensing in Croydon, sent an email to Seda which referred to “what this borough finds unacceptable forms of music”.
But in April 2016, in an embarrassing defeat for Croydon licensing officers, councillors voted to take no action against the venue after reading more than 400 pages of police documents calling for the nightclub’s licence to be reviewed.
The apparent animosity between the local police and the council’s more relaxed attitude to the town centre’s night life is an on-going cause of friction.
Earlier this year, the bashment ban row prompted the council’s scrutiny committee to ask Young to draft a report on Croydon’s night-life. That report was due to have been published by the council in the summer, but more than three months late it has not yet been made public.
Though any such report might be influential for future council licensing policy, in the meantime the council announced that it was looking to relax previously strict rules on granting licences to new venues serving alcohol.
In an announcement issued by the council last month, they said, “Changes to people’s social habits and a drive to boost the night-time economy are behind Croydon Council’s decision to conduct a review of licensing requirements in the town centre.
“First written in 2004, the licensing policy contains a section relating to premises within the town centre’s defined area, which states that, because of the high concentration of pubs, bars and clubs in a relatively small area, there is a presumption to refuse new applications from premises used exclusively or primarily for the sale of alcohol and/or with loud amplified recorded music.” Basically, any wannabe club owner with a bright idea for a night club in Croydon has been blocked for the past 13 years, with the notable exception of Boozepark, backed by a £3million council loan.
The council statement announcing the policy review said, “There were concerns that a concentration of such licensed premises could result in an increase in crime and disorder…
“The policy review seeks to remove the special town-centre section of the policy as it is no longer applicable. If, however, an application is met with relevant objections, it will continue to be referred to the council’s licensing sub-committee for decision.”
During last week’s meeting of the licensing committee, the first since the policy review was announced, Young suggested that his unpublished scrutiny report had influenced Sadiq Khan into ordering the police to review the use of the 696 form to stop black and Asian music.
That was when Avis moved to stop Young from speaking, evidently concerned over a legal aspect of what was being said, but without any member of the council’s team of lawyers present to provide advice.
One of the other councillors on the committee, Andrew Pelling, moved that the matter should therefore be deferred until proper legal advice was available, or to determine whether the committee was acting reasonably by agreeing a policy when it had not seen the unpublished night-time economy report.
Avis then dismissed this, telling the committee that they should not be discussing a report that does not exist.
Which only served to raise further questions about why the council’s Labour administration has continued to suppress the report.
There does not seem to be any apparent urgency for pushing through the more permissive town centre licensing policy, as the meeting was told that the policy is not needed until 2019 – or maybe later, as it is seen as a deliberate move to accommodate more boozers and bars in Westfield, whenever that supermall is eventually built.
Undeterred, Avis still tried to avoid taking the motion to defer, clearly anxious to get the policy pushed through before the next meeting of the full council. She was advised that she could not.
When it was put to a vote, Young and Pelling were joined by Tory councillors Steve O’Connell, Michael Neal and Margaret Bird in voting in favour of deferring any decision until suitable legal advice was available, while Avis (from the chair), Maddie Henson and the late arriving David Wood voted against.
Which means that the new licensing policy now cannot go before the full council for (inevitable) approval until the end of January.
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