The Licensing Sub-Committee proceeded to hear the case following the adopted procedure rules. The application for a premises licence for Beluga Bar, 46-50 High Street, Tunbridge Wells was summarised by the Licensing Officer, Mr Packham.
Mr Packham mentioned that the premises were currently authorised by a premises licence in the name of Liquid Lounge/Davinchi’s. However, he reminded members that this Sub-Committee meeting was to determine an application for a new licence and that any conditions or restrictions attached to the new licence would not apply to the current one, nor could the current premises licence be modified at this meeting.
Members were advised that the application sought opening hours of 24 hours per day, as well as authorisation for other licensable activities, as shown in paragraph 9 of the report. They noted that the Police had not made any representation in respect of this application, although details of the ten occasions on which Police had attended the premises this year in relation to crime and disorder were listed in the agenda. However a copy of the police representation made in 2009, which was subsequently withdrawn at the review meeting, was attached as an appendix to the agenda.
Mr Packham explained that many of the representations made reference to incidents which occurred four to five years ago and which were pertinent to, and addressed by, the review of the premises in 2009. He reminded the Sub-Committee that each application must be treated on its own merits.
The Chairman invited Mr Phillips, the applicants’ Barrister to present his case. He advised members that his clients wished to modify their application and explained that the extension of hours would now only relate to the basement area, the first floor and a small part of the ground floor.
Mr Phillips advised that refurbishment work was currently underway to the basement area which sought to move the central bar to either end of the room, with a screen and a door in the middle of the room to break it up into two areas, one area being a quiet space away from the nightclub. He explained that an alcove had been created in the smoking area with a glazed window which enabled those outside to view inside the premises. Members were informed that the smoking area was located in a passageway between two buildings and was enclosed on three sides, facing the main High Street.
Mr Phillips then went on to describe the proposed works to the ground floor of the premises. He explained that the area to be licensed on the ground floor under this application would only include a small reception space and a champagne bar which would accommodate 30/40 people. The Sub-Committee was advised that negotiations were currently taking place with a nationally known restaurant operator to occupy the remainder of the ground floor. It was noted that no amendments were planned to the first floor.
Mr Phillips explained the reasons that his clients had requested longer opening hours. He referred to the other similar licensed premises in town that were able to operate longer hours, as well as the significant changes to the leisure industry. He claimed that Beluga Bar was the only proper, dedicated nightclub in the town centre which had the longest serving operators who managed a professional, well run business.
Mr Phillips mentioned the conditions suggested by Mr McCullough, the Principal Environmental Health Officer, and agreed to most of them being include on the licence if approved. However he did not consider that the number of cashiers present on busy nights needed to be specified in a condition on the licence, as it was in his clients’ interests to get patrons inside the premises as quickly as possible. He agreed that this could be included into a noise management plan. In addition, Mr Phillips did not agree to a condition specifying that the staff supervising the smoking area should be SIA registered. He reassured members that all staff would be adequately trained, but an SIA member of staff could be deployed elsewhere if a situation arose. Mr Phillips stated that his clients’ were content to agree to a condition restricting admission to new patrons one hour before closing time.
Mr Phillips advised that his clients’ application was for the supply of alcohol until 02.00 hours Sunday to Wednesday, and 03.00 hours Thursday to Saturday. It was expected that all patrons would then have left the premises twenty minutes later. Mr Phillips mentioned the other bars that traded until 03.30 – 04.00 hours within the town.
In response to Other Parties’ questions Mr Phillips explained that the designated smoking area was not being altered, it was simply the inside space that was being altered and improved. He confirmed that there was on average 50-60 patrons in the smoking area during the busiest times and that the noise impact was reduced because it was an alleyway, surrounded by tall buildings. He reassured the Other Parties that the back doors in the basement were not going to be used for entry/exits for patrons. Mr Javadi anticipated that there would be a gradual dispersal of patrons leaving the club if the premises closed at 03.20 hours, therefore minimising the noise nuisance.
In response to a question from Councillor Derrick, Mr Javadi confirmed that when the new restaurant opened on the ground floor the front entrance would not be used as a smoking area, only the alleyway around the side of the premises.
Mr Phillips referred to the Temporary Event Notices (TENs) that the applicants had been allowed since 2009 which had resulted in no complaints from residents. He claimed that the additional hours had been tried and tested through the TENs and had been a success.
Mr McCullough was then invited to present his case to the Sub-Committee. He advised that he had worked previously with the applicants to resolve problems and control the breakout of noise and he congratulated the premises on being very well managed and working as close as possible to best practice. With regard to the smoking area, Mr McCullough considered that the alleyway was an effective barrier to reduce the noise impact, however he considered that a lobby area was necessary between the doors that led to the smoking area. Mr McCullough confirmed that during conversations with the applicants, Mr Javadi had confirmed that a contingency plan was in place to install a lobby area should this be an issue. Therefore Mr McCullough stated that he would not be objecting to this as technical solutions could be put in place. He suggested that the smoking area could be limited in numbers as he had witnessed it being moderately busy at times and he stated that he would prefer SIA staff supervising this area, but acknowledged that occasionally they could be required in another area.
Mr McCullough considered that the numbers of patrons in the club would reduce significantly when the proposed restaurant was operational on the ground floor. Therefore this would reduce the numbers of patrons leaving the premises late at night which should reduce the noise disturbance.
He confirmed that he would accept the conditions as amended by Mr Phillips earlier, but asked that the Sub-Committee consider his request to restrict the terminal hour.
The Other Parties were then invited to address the Sub-Committee.
(1) Mr Hurrell, speaking on behalf of Mr LaMotte, referred to the High Street as a conservation area which should be a peaceful place to live. He advised the Sub-Committee that 40 residents had written in to object to the application because they were so strongly opposed to it. It was noted that there was a fragile balance between the premises and the residents and, although there was no longer the volume of patrons as there used to be, the events approved under the TENs had been disruptive to the residents. It was acknowledged that the management inside the premises was excellent, however it was the control of patrons outside that was the problem and the police were ineffective due to insufficient resources.
(2) Mr Tempest also stated that the noise disturbance and crime and disorder in the area had reduced following the review in 2009. However, he considered that this could be due to the economic downturn. He referred to the phased dispersal of patrons that had been mentioned earlier in the meeting, and the DJ making announcements before closing time to respect the residents, but felt that patrons under the influence would pay no attention to this. He advised members that other nightclubs and bars in town were more open and covered by CCTV. However these premises were in a location surrounded by alleyways and small lanes not covered by CCTV. Mr Tempest informed the Sub-Committee of recent behaviour late at night on 1 December outside the premises involving screaming and shouting and the police had been called.
(3) Mrs Wilson also acknowledged that the scale of the serious problems prior to 2009 had been reduced, however she felt that the noise and antisocial behaviour remained and no-one took responsibility for the patrons once they left the premises. She expressed concern that if the hours of the premises were extended then this would have a detrimental affect on residents, especially those who had to get up early for work.
(4) Mr Sharp (also speaking on behalf of Mr O’Neill) talked about the adverse affect on the community if the hours were extended. He expressed concern at public safety as some residents walking home experienced pavements blocked by patrons of the premises and very often felt threatened by their drunken behaviour. He claimed that the residents should not have to put up with this unacceptable behaviour and fear for the safety of their families. He also spoke about the sexual activities that took place along the High Street and outside residents’ homes.
(5) Ms Malone spoke about the fact that the noise from patrons was loud enough to wake up her young children. She considered that the High Street was a residential area and should not be subject to shouting and screaming late at night, with fights occurring in the road and nearby parks. She also advised the Sub-Committee that it had often been necessary to clean the blood and other debris created by patrons off the streets and the residents’ gardens. She recognised that the applicants had made improvements to the premises to reduce noise nuisance and move patrons along the High Street when the premises closed. However she sought reassurance that adequate controls would be put in place to reduce the adverse impact on the residents if the application was granted.
(6) Mr Hurrell suggested that the motivation for the application was due to the economic downturn and the dramatic drop in clientele. He considered that the applicants were looking for an opportunity to increase profits, and in addition their main competitor was moving into a different field and attracting a different audience. He mentioned that there was no control of patrons once they came out of the premises and no conditions on the licence would remedy this in reality.
(7) Mrs Crew spoke on behalf of the residents of Grantley Court. She referred to the basement plans and in particular the smoking area, which caused significant nuisance to Grantley Court residents, many of whom had bedrooms facing this area. She suggested that the application should be refused. However, if the Sub-Committee were minded to approve the application, Ms Crew then asked that the smoking area be restricted to ten patrons, supervised by an SIA member of staff and the terminal hour reduced to that suggested by Mr McCullough.
(8) Miss Starke informed the Sub-Committee of the disturbance and distress caused to residents by the patrons of the premises. She spoke of the noise of the music which travelled and vibrated to such an extent that residents were unable to open their windows at night. She advised of the noise made by vehicles picking up patrons late at night and the adverse impact that the TENs had on the residents. Miss Starke also mentioned that the telephone number given out by the applicants as a contact number in cases of complaints from residents was never answered. She expressed concern that the numbers of patrons would increase and the situation experienced previously would return.
(9) Councillor Horwood referred to the submission made by Councillor Hall, and advised that this was supported by all the Councillors representing the ward. He talked about the history of disturbance in the area prior to the review and stated that the reduced hours had enabled the residents and the premises to co-exist. However, he advised that the events held under the TENs had created unacceptable noise and disturbance for residents. He expressed concern that if the application was approved then the situation prior to the review in 2009 would return. He considered that the problems experienced by residents could not easily be addressed by conditions, as they were mostly due to patrons gathering in the High Street influenced by excessive alcohol.
In response to Mr Tempest’s statement, Mr Phillips advised that, as well as the DJ’s announcements at the end of the evening, there were notices displayed around the premises asked patrons to leave quietly and similar notices had been erected in the surrounding streets by the police. He added that they were the only premises in the area that sweep the streets after closing time.
Mr Phillips expressed concern at Miss Starke’s statement that the emergency contact number for the premises had not been answered when she had used it to complain. He advised that his clients were not aware of any missed calls, but he assured the Sub-Committee that this would be addressed.
Mr Phillips then referred to the TEN’s that the premises had been given permission for in the past. He queried why Miss Starke had not complained if the events had disturbed her. In response, Miss Starke considered that there was little point complaining as it was a one-off event.
Councillor Mrs Soyke then asked Mr Phillips to explain how his clients’ application would alleviate the residents’ concerns.
Mr Phillips stated that the application would significantly improve the situation for residents because the entire ground floor area would be used for a different purpose and the upgrade would enable a quiet seating area in the basement area. He added that the upmarket, reputable restaurant, which was anticipated to occupy the ground floor of the premises, would also want to work successfully with residents.
In response to further questions from the residents Mr Javadi confirmed that the premises would be operating under the current licence until the proposed restaurant was refurbished. It was anticipated that the new owners of the restaurant would then make their own application. Mr Phillips clarified that the ground floor area would not be trading any later than it did currently and the capacity would be halved.
All parties were then invited to make their final statements.
Mr McCullough confirmed that he was happy with the conditions that had now been agreed with the applicant, however he still remained concerned at the extended opening times requested.
Mrs Crew remained concerned at the impact the application would have on residents. She considered that that the application moved the focus to the basement level which would adversely affect Grantley Court residents. She felt that the application should be refused, but asked that should the Sub-Committee be minded to approve it then the terminal hour should be much earlier than requested by the applicants. She also added that the smoking area should be restricted to ten patrons at any one time.
Mr Phillips stated that the premises had improved significantly over the last five years since the review hearing and would be even further improved by the renovation works that were currently being undertaken. He referred to the previous TENs that had been approved and had received no objections from the residents and claimed that these events had been a successful trial run. Mr Phillips clarified that the smoking area did not adjoin the Grantley Court building and was not a new addition, having been used for that purpose for the last five years. He considered that it was inappropriate to limit the number of smokers to ten having regard to the size of the premises. Mr Phillips claimed that his clients were recognised as responsible operators and had invested large amounts of money into the premises. He added that the hours being sought were not unreasonable as other similar premises in the area had later finishing times.
The Sub-Committee then retired to deliberate their decision.
RESOLVED - That the application for a premises licence for Beluga Bar, 46-50 High Street, Tunbridge Wells be determined as shown in the Appendix attached.
Also in Attendance:
Majid Javadi and Hamid Javadi – Applicants
Jeremy Phillips – Applicant’s Barrister
Residents: Tim Tempest, Katherine Wilson, Ianthe Starke, Andrew Sharp, Kate Malone, Gillian Crew and Trevor Hurrell