Licensing; an area of serious special concern.

In Tollcross, Edinburgh we live in a city centre location with all the positives and negatives that brings. In recent years Lothian Road has been sometimes practically a no-go zone on a Friday or Saturday night; all flowing from the late night issues associated with pubs, clubs, strip joints, fast food outlets and even larger issues surrounding a sauna too.

The result of all this night time economy for those living in and around the area is massive; from low level crime, street fighting, noise, pubs at closing time causing noise and large groups leaving together amount to locals being under siege.

A new ‘gentrification’ in the past 3 or 4 years has seen new business move in to Lothian Road especially, the local ‘sauna’ has closed and some of the strip clubs turned into up-market pubs and restaurants.

But even with the likes of Innes and Gunns, Mexican food, posh burgers and a soon to be opened Brew Dog we still face an uphill struggle with the night time economy, licensing and the over provision of alcohol in the area.

Tollcross is marked out by the Licensing Board of Edinburgh City Council as: “Identified by the Board as being areas of serious Special Concern”[1]

And yet in the last few years this same Board has granted more and more alcohol licenses in the area, including one for the old Caly Picture House at the bottom of Lothian Road, for 915 people – making it the largest pub in Edinburgh in one stroke.

This hardly seems like a Board that is taking its own advice on the area being of ‘serious special concern’.

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Tollcross area of ‘Serious special concern’ re number of establishments selling alcohol.

To further confound the effects of the night time economy in the last Council the Board passed an amendment to Licensing called ‘Music is Audible’ – a change from the previous policy of music

shall not be an audible nuisance’ as set in 2013[2]

The new policy to allow for music to be audible lets pubs apply to vary their licence and allow music noise to be heard aloud outside of the licensed premises for example in your home sat above the venue.

Many Community Councils took up the fight on behalf of local communities over the proposed changes including my own Community Council in Tollcross putting in written submissions to the process.

New Town and Broughton Community Council (NTBCC) submitted a letter to the Board on this subject and to quote part of it here:[3]

Noise and Residential Amenity

Edinburgh is a thriving centre of the arts but is also unusual in the UK by having a very large residential population in the city centre. This keeps it alive and safe, and boosts the local economy by supporting shops and businesses.

However, residents often feel they live under siege from ever increasing numbers and ever extending hours of operation of leisure facilities, pubs and restaurants, and extra “festivals” run (often promoted and supported by those who live outside the central area) with little regard or concern for residents’ amenity.

Noise pollution – especially from neighbouring premises including late-night pubs and discos – is a huge concern. It is the biggest topic of complaint to the council. In trying to protect our environment, one of our few lines of defence is the Licensing Board’s condition requiring amplified music to be inaudible in neighbouring residential property.

It has been suggested that Edinburgh’s inaudibility condition is outdated and over-restrictive. However, as more cities regenerate their central areas and residential uses are returning, it could well be that our example will be seen as a sensible and workable model for other cities to adopt.

We note also Article 1 of the Human Rights Protocol, which entitles every person to the peaceful enjoyment of their property. At a time when the EU is looking at tighter noise standards, it is bizarre that the Council, who have a duty to protect their citizens, are even thinking of making it worse.

The main proposer of Music is Audible within the Board was Cllr. Charles Booth – Green Councillor for Leith Ward who commented at the time[4]:

“After a mammoth session of the Edinburgh Licensing Board, finishing just after 5pm, it was agreed (by 6 votes to 2) to change our statement of policy. I voted in favour of the change. The new statement will read as follows:

6.2 Where relevant representations are made, the Board will make an objective judgement as to whether other conditions may need to be attached to a licence to secure achievement of the licensing objectives. Any such conditions will be consistent with section 27 of the Act. Any conditions arising as a result of representations will primarily focus on the impact of the activities taking place at the licensed premises, on those attending the premises and members of the public living, working or engaged in normal activity in the vicinity of the premises, and will cover matters that are within the control of the licence holder.

In particular where the operating plan indicates that music is to be played in premises, the Board will always consider the imposition of a condition requiring that amplified music from those premises shall not be an audible nuisance in neighbouring residential property.”

So again, the residents of Edinburgh are made to suffer to allow commercial gain. Having to put up with noise from pubs, clubs living as many do in stairs directly above these licensed premises.

And that was how it was left as the old Council fell silent, and an election was called for May 2017.

With those new elections, the old Chair of the Licensing Board is no longer a Councillor –– and the new board has 18 months to come forward with new policies proposals for Licensing in the area.

So a little insight into policy along side the Licensing Board sit a Licensing Forum required by the ‘Licensing (SCOTLAND) ACT 2005’, under section 6 of the Act. Its remit includes:[5]

In accordance with the requirements of section 6 of the Act, and prior to the publication of this policy, the board will consult with and take account of the views of:

• the local licensing forum for the board area

• such other person or persons who appear to the board to be representative

of:

• holders of premises and personal licences

• persons having functions relating to health, education or social work

• young people

• persons resident within the licensing board’s area and

• such other persons as the board thinks appropriate.

The problem is that the Forum is not democratically elected. Its list of members and remit is shrouded in mystery and it would seem one Council Officer – the ‘Executive Director’ of Place Paul Lawrence has the power to appoint people to this Forum in consultation with the Board Chair.

When the Licensing Boards policies are up for discussion, improvement and change, that forum needs to be open and honest about its appointments, views, make up and recommendations it makes to the Board. After all policies like ‘Music is Audible’ have a direct effect on the quality of people’s lives living in the Board area.

You might hope that the Council would propose changes to the Forum to bring about an open and transparent set up, engaging as the act says youth, health, social care and others to attend but alas no dice.

At the full Council meeting on the 23rd November 2017 – the Council passed this – ‘Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 – Reappointment of the City of Edinburgh Licensing Forum and Revised Constitution’[6]

In the report, it recommended –

the revised membership of the City of Edinburgh Licensing Forum as set out at Appendix 1;

1.1.2 agrees to the reappointment of any existing member of the Forum, where appropriate, should they wish to volunteer; and notes that the Executive Director of Place has delegated authority to appoint any remaining members; and

1.1.3 approves the amended City of Edinburgh Licensing Forum Constitution as set out in Appendix 2.

3.2 For community representatives, local community planning structures will be asked to nominate or re-nominate resident members of the forum. Existing community representatives will be asked to continue temporarily until Council has agreed any revision to community engagement structures. For the remaining membership, due to the experience gained by existing Forum members, it is proposed that they be offered reappointment for the forthcoming period should they wish to continue. Any remaining places would be advertised and these would require to be considered in line with the proposed membership composition.

So here we go – existing people will continue on the forum as is. It was voted on and surprise surprise accepted as Council policy.

So with the bonuses who currently sits on the forum; an almost impossible list to get, and the Council signing off the status quo you can see why we need change when the Board is considering new policies.

From my research it does not seem the appointed few cover a wide or balanced set of city views to help guide the board through new policy or change.

In limited research I found:

  • Two representatives from Fairmilehead Community Council. Two!
  • A Community representative from the Tollcross area – and until recently as Chair of Tollcross Community Council one I didn’t know existed in this capacity. I’m pretty sure our Community has not been asked for its views anytime recently.
  • A member from the Community Council of Merchiston.
  • A representative from Old Town Community Council.

And these are the few I can find out about.

Let’s be fair here, the forum is not representative of the people of Edinburgh.

But hold on a minute here. Earlier in the year reform was on their minds – depending who you ask Council Officers where tasked to do a public consultation regarding the Forum.

Athough I can find no mention of this in public papers. The closest I could find was from the Forum of 9/03/2017[7]

Forum Membership & Reappointment – AM updated the Forum as to the process of re-appointment and membership of the Forum. AM confirmed that no radical changes would be proposed. AM invited comments on proposed structure and constitution and would send out any available information. AM confirmed current constitution was available online. AM confirmed a report regarding this would be drafted for full Council before summer recess, if possible. Forum agreed that Convener would remain the same at present. AM agreed to consider the appointment of Educational Rep to the Forum.

My Community Council was never consulted. In fact, the whole area of the South-East Locality was left out of the ‘consultation’ and perhaps others too. In fact, in reply to Councillors the officers had to admit that many areas where in fact not consulted. So did a consultation that did consult everyone really representative? if you managed to follow all the twists and turns so far then here’s another twist.

To the rescue Council committee Risk and Best Value (GRBV) – 28 November 2017[8] the Council’s ‘standards watchdog’ which asked Officers to look into the remit of the Forum and the consultation it may or may not have undertaken.

The review by GRBV is remitted to make sure the consultation was transparent. To scrutinise the work undertaken as a Council Committee.

This is a bit like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted – after all the paper on ‘Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 – Reappointment of the City of Edinburgh Licensing Forum and Revised Constitution’ was signed off at full Council only the week before.

A paper we now know had many knew had issues – but Councillors passed anyway.

So we’ll need to keep an eye on GRBV to see what they have to say about it. i do hope they will come back with quite a lot to say… how about starting again with a proper consultation for a start?

The least we can hope from GRBV is to ensure a future forum is a representative group of people from around Edinburgh. People with local knowledge, specialist knowledge such as the Police and NHS and those who run pubs and clubs too. But also and perhaps most of important of all is to hear the voices of those who have to live in among it all; to ask local residents what’s the best for the future of licensing in Edinburgh.

We await the outcome of GRBV and hope we can get a democratically elected forum that together with the Board make informed choices that benefit both the communities of Edinburgh and the licensed trade we support too.

But as they say watch this space to see how the Council performs on our behalf; after all it’s our city. We only lend them the power to run it in our behalf.

Andrew Brough.

  1. Licensing Board Policy 2013 page 71.http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/3083/licensing_board_policy_november_2013
  2. 2013’Licesing Board Policy http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/3083/licensing_board_policy_november_2013.pdf
  3. Letter to Licensing from NTBCC – http://www.ntbcc.org.uk/here2/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Music-is-Audible-NTBCC-representation-20Jul16.doc
  4. https://chasbooth1.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/music-is-audible-decision/
  5. Act in full: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2005/16/contents
  6. http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/download/meetings/id/55432/item_84_-_licensing_scotland_act_2005_-_reappointment_of_the_city_of_edinburgh_licensing_forum_and_revised_constitution and watch the webscast of the vote here: https://edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/293928/start_time/8947000
  7. http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/4142/licensing_forum
  8. https://edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/293949/start_time/797000

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