Licensing objections by residents’ associations
I attended a licensing hearing in South London recently, and it offered valuable lessons for any residents’ associations thinking of objecting to a new Licensing Act application. The ‘bottom line’ was the success of a well prepared local residents’ association representation; which was succinct, not repetitive, confined to the licensing objectives realistically in play, and – most important of all – the representation kept its eye on the ball and avoided the temptation to over-load the sub-committee with make-weight complaints.
That latter self-discipline paid dividends: it was not only clear that the licensing sub-committee had read and digested everything the residents had sent in, but – perhaps because the residents’ association case was tailored to a manageable list of issues – the sub-committee raised each of them with the applicant, asking searching questions and requiring answers. No resident could have left that hearing (no matter what the result) thinking that insufficient attention had been paid to his/her concerns. As it happens, they were successful: the application was refused in its entirety.
I have previously expressed doubts, occasionally in public, about the very limited window in which to make representations at contested licensing applications; but last week’s hearing causes me to revise my thinking. Of course there are some applications that are more troublesome than others, and require a substantial period to be set aside for competing oral presentations; but in other cases, and if the written material is carefully drafted, it does seem to me (and did so last week in South London) that if everything is already in the Agenda papers, in black and white, there is unlikely to be much need for additional oral submissions, save for an underscoring, as it were, of the headline arguments.
That being so, it has to be worth the time of any residents’ association to take care over the drafting of its initial representations, and making them as easy to read, as ‘digestible’, and above all as succinct and relevant, as possible – without losing sight, obviously, of the need to do justice to one’s case. What we did in last week’s objection, and I believe it was of genuine assistance to the sub-committee, can be summarised in the following suggested precepts –
Divide the material into topics
Underlined headings, as above, tell the reader what to expect in the (hopefully few) sentences that follow. A good licensing objection focusses on 3-4 main issues. Perhaps understandably, but ultimately unhelpfully, a representation by a residents’ association will often cast around for every last complaint it can make – which takes the sub-committee’s eye off the most telling points.
Use sub-headings if it assists understanding. Usually the 3-4 main issues provide perfect sub-heading.
The text of the recent licensing objection I conducted for a residents’ association was organised under the following headings:
A common misapprehension in any licensing objection by residents’ associations is that a good point is made stronger by repetition: it is not – it is weakened.
A common misapprehension in a licensing objections by a residents’ association is that a good point is made stronger by repetition: it is not – it is weakened.
Between the making of a representation and the hearing of the application there is likely to be movement of some sort – for example, the applicant may offer some compromises on hours or capacity. A witness statement should be drafted, and lodged a few days before the hearing, bringing things fully up to date. If there is any further development, it can be dealt with orally at the hearing itself. Such a witness statement is not an opportunity to regurgitate what has already been said, but can (and should) consolidate the original objection with the current state of affairs – abandoning, as necessary, whatever is no longer in issue. Ideally, the licensing committee should have before them, in one short document, a summary of all the contested issues that they have to decide.
There may be a large number of residents who want to object to a controversial application; but it is not necessary to produce reams of paper duplicating, under different signatures and addresses, precisely the same material – or the same with minor variations. In our recent objection we produced a single letter (two concise pages), supplemented by a schedule of those wishing to be associated with it. There were over two hundred names: I suspect that not having to plough through two hundred written representations was welcomed by the sub-committee and licensing officers alike. Although it did not arise in our case, if anyone wishes to reserve his/her rights of appeal (if it comes to that) as an individual objector, that can be made clear within the schedule of names, and signed by that person.
The simple, but golden, rule is: the more reader-friendly your material, the more likely it is that it will be taken on board.
As will be clear from the above, and I hope without sounding condescending, I was impressed by last week’s hearing. It left me with a better appreciation of how the current licensing regime can work; and the realisation that local people have it much more within their power to make their voices heard, and acted upon, than I had previously thought was available to them.