Last night Wirral Council’s Licensing Act 2003 Committee met.
Wirral Council started the Wirral Alcohol Inquiry in September 2015 and awarded the tender for this to Shared Future (a Community Interest Company). The question that they were asked to answer was, “What can we all do to make it easier for people to have a healthier relationship with alcohol?”.
The report that came out of talking with twenty Wirral residents made a series of recommendations, the most important one was seen as “Limit the number of licensed premises and make it easier for the public to object to licensing applications. Educate the public that you can have a say on local licensing. Explore how we can make it easier for the public to have their say on local licensing.”
Three of the twenty residents were present at last night’s meeting. However despite receiving legal advice to allow filming to go ahead, despite the law being changed over two years ago, councillors decided to adjourn the whole meeting, ironically to make is harder for the public to have their say on local licensing.
This marks the 4th time since the legislation was changed this has happened and here’s just a brief look back at when Wirral Council has tried this before since the legislation change.
Councillors decided to ban filming of the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee, to avoid future problems the Committee stopped meeting in public and now Wirral Council is subject to government intervention for the way it runs the Children and Young Peoples’ Department.
At the Standards Panel meeting involving a complaint about Cllr Foulkes, the public were prevented from both attending and filming.
So yes, in scenes that remind me of the film Groundhog Day, watch below as councillors would rather adjourn the whole meeting, than have some openness and transparency.
Councillors were repeatedly advised by a solicitor advising the Licensing Act 2003 Committee to allow filming, but some chose to ignore him.
The vote was as follows.
For a filming ban (that they have no power to impose and is in my view unlawful) (7)
Cllr David Burgess-Joyce (Conservative)
Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour)
Cllr Chris Meaden (Labour)
Cllr Paul Stuart (Labour)
Cllr Denise Roberts (Labour)
Cllr George Davies (Labour)
Cllr Michael Sullivan (proposer, Labour))
Against a filming ban (2)
Cllr Bill Davies (Chair, Labour))
Cllr Dave Mitchell (Liberal Democrat)
You can watch below for what happened at the meeting itself. The 5 minute adjournment lasted twenty-six minutes.
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The Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee comprising of Cllr Steve Niblock, Cllr Denise Roberts and Cllr Louise Reecejones supposed to start at 10.00am actually started at 10.20am. Cllr Steve Niblock was chair for the meeting. Quite why meetings of the Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee never start on time is a Town Hall mystery to write about another day, but councillors were there to decide on an application for selling alcohol at Westbourne Hall in Westbourne Road, West Kirby which is now run by Westbourne Hall Community Trust.
Attending the meeting were two trustees from the Westbourne Hall Community Trust whose names were David Wade and Ray Davies. Representing them was a solicitor called Barry Holland. There were also various council officers present to take the minutes, give legal advice or answer questions about the detail of the application.
A local resident, described as a professor who lives near Westbourne Hall was objecting to the application was also present, as was myself and my wife. Normally that would be everyone, but unusually (as there were no objections to this application from Merseyside Police) Sergeant Simon Barrigan (Licensing Sergeant for Wirral) and an unknown police officer accompanying him, sat and observed the meeting in silence.
At the start of the meeting Margaret O’Donnell (Licensing Manager, Wirral Council) informed people present that two residents had contacted Wirral Council officers to say that they couldn’t attend the hearing but had emailed in their views. The solicitor representing the Westbourne Hall Community Trust, Barry Holland said that he had had a chat with the objector to straighten out some issues. The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock read out what he does at every Licensing Act 2003 Subcommittee about what the purpose of the meeting was.
Margaret O’Donnell raised the issue of filming the meeting by saying, “Just to confirm for those who are present as well, that this particular hearing is being filmed and whether or not you wanted to give people an opportunity to comment on that.” I’ll point out here that when Pt 2 of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 came into effect on August 6th of this year Wirral Council is not allowed to stop filming at its public meetings. The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock asked people present if they consented to being filmed and asked people present to confirm their consent.
As I sat there, as I’ve sat there through many discussions about filming at the start of public meetings at Wirral Council, I felt like I was in the film Groundhog Day where the same thing keeps getting said in an endless loop about filming in an effort to try my patience.
Heads were nodding around the room about the filming issue and the professor said in reply, “Well I assume I don’t even have a say in the matter, but as it’s a public meeting, usually I object to that in general but I also approve of the general principle of public meetings, so I think I don’t have any choice but to accept.”
Seemingly with a look of disappointment and a big intake of breath Cllr Steve Niblock as nobody was objecting to the filming of the meeting he asked their legal adviser Ken Abraham for “guidance on this issue”. I will point out at this point that in June, Cllr Niblock totally ignored the guidance that Ken Abraham gave him at a previous Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee meeting which led to the stop filming, that means stop now blog post back in June.
Mr Ken Abraham replied very quietly as he can hardly be heard on the video, “Well legislation has recently been passed in respect of meetings held in the past, held by the local authority which is regulations which are in force as well in relation to that. The guidance that was issued, really doesn’t touch upon the issue of individuals who object to the meeting being filmed. So there may be a pragmatic view really, if an individual did object to recording then that part of the hearing with which they were involved, you could ask for the camera to be switched off and we would have to in making that request, rely on the errm credibility and honesty of the individual filming to ensure the fact that the camera is actually put off and there would be no filming of that part.
Really to object to this filming, it would be a shame et cetera. So, councillor as I said before, Members around the table, you could attempt to do that but that is the rule.”
The professor said he didn’t want to cause any problems, followed by the solicitor for the applicant saying they would not to object to filming as it would be “churlish” as the application was being made on behalf of the community.
Margaret O’Donnell said that the purpose of the hearing was to decide on an application for a premises licence made by Westbourne Hall Community Trust and related to Westbourne Hall, in Westbourne Road, West Kirby. She said that they currently had a premises licence, which also allowed for regulated entertainment. Margaret O’Donnell read out the times they had applied for and that there were representations from residents about the application and one resident was here at the hearing.
The Chair, Cllr Steve Niblock asked the solicitor for the applicants to speak in support of their application. He said that it was not an application for a public house, sporting club or any kind of commercial venture. Westbourne Hall had operated as a community trust, originally run by Wirral Council and people from the area. Mr Davies had been associated with it since the joint panel was formed in 1994, but he had been involved before that dating back to 1991.
He went on to make it clear that it would not be a public house, there would be no stock and the application was to enable the premises to offer to people who rent it such as charities, arts groups, martial arts groups, dance groups and that it was a “genuine community venture”. Mr Holland said that the hall was rented out for wedding receptions and that the hall had had a licence since the inception of the 2003 Licensing Act.
However Westbourne Hall used its full quota of twelve temporary event notices and that there was no objection from any of the responsible authorities to this application. He said that due to the restriction the hall had lost out on potential lets and gave the example of an organisation renting the hall for rehearsals but also wanting to have an annual dance and Christmas party there. At the moment these were going to Heswall or Hoylake.
When the trust had taken over they had put a business plan together as to how they intended to run it, but they lost bookings who had gone elsewhere. He referred to the Hoylake Community Trust had done the same and it was to level the playing field. The community trust was not a commercial venture and he went into the detail as to the times.
Birthday parties for people aged 18-25 would not be permitted and he explained that they had had to make notices available about the application on the premises and in the press. If he had changed the wording of these notices to please the neighbours to explain it was not a commercial facility then it could have been argued that the statutory requirements hadn’t been complied with. He had been involved in a previous application where this had happened.
He asked for the artificial restriction of only twelve temporary event notices a year to be lifted and that the hall didn’t aim to change the relationship with its neighbours but he would happily answer any questions.
Two councillors (Cllr Louise Reecejones and Cllr Steve Niblock) asked similar questions about how they would ensure that the licensing objectives were upheld by organisations renting the hall and selling alcohol?
To be continued…
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Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee (Wirral Council) (Wallasey Town Hall, Committee Room 3) 8th May 2014 Martins, 389 Upton Road, Noctorum (Martin McColl Limited) Councillor Mike Sullivan (Labour), Councillor Steve Niblock (Chair, Labour), Councillor Mike Hornby (Conservative)
Martins (389 Upton Road) ask for an alcohol licence; the Merseyside Police Sergeant insists video of a public meeting is erased
Sometimes public meetings take such a bizarre turn, I couldn’t do justice to what happened at them without providing a transcript. However you first need to know a little about this “public meeting”. As detailed in the published report a application for a licence (from Martin McColl Limited) to sell alcohol at a newsagents at Martins, 389 Upton Road, Noctorum (which is in Claughton ward although it is across the road from Bidston & St James ward and very near Upton ward) had been received by Wirral Council. Martins don’t currently sell alcohol and the shop is run as a newsagents/grocery store.
The application was to sell alcohol from 6am to 11pm (seven days a week) for consumption off the premises. There had been a representation from a local business and a petition signed by ninety-four people against the application being granted. Both the petition and representation related to existing problems with youths in the area of the newsagents.
Merseyside Police were also objecting to the application on the basis of a current problem with antisocial behaviour in the area of the newsagents and the likelihood that this would increase if the licence was granted. Another ground of objection from Merseyside Police was that they didn’t feel that the applicant had sufficiently demonstrated how crime and disorder would be prevented at the premises in the future should the licence be granted.
Unusually a representation had also been received from Wirral Council’s Environmental Health department which related to the prevention of crime and disorder and public safety.
The meeting was supposed to start at 2pm, although it didn’t. The councillors and council officers were in the room at 2pm, but they seem to insist on having a long talk with each other before the meeting officially starts. For some peculiar reason (which is different to all other public meetings held at Wallasey Town Hall) they insist everybody comes in at once and won’t even allow you in the room five minutes a few minutes before the meeting starts (which is necessary to set up a tripod and turn a camera on in time for the meeting to start). I’ve asked a Wirral Council officer why, they just state because of the regulations. There’s nothing in the regulations that states everyone has to go into a public meeting at once, in fact the regulations just state the hearing has to be held in public (subject to Regulation 14(2)).
Anyway after what was a long time of waiting of about fifteen minutes everyone was asked to come in (which takes a few minutes in itself as there was me, Leonora, two petitioners, Sgt Barrigan (Merseyside Police), the applicant’s representative, the “area manager” and a Wirral Council officer working in Environmental Health). The meeting started and here is a transcript. Officially the first two items are appointment of Chair and declarations of interest.
COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
I’m Councillor Steve Niblock and I’m the Chair of the Subcommittee this afternoon as are my councillor colleagues who will be determining the application. Could I first ask that all mobile phones are switched off or turned to silent please? Thank you and also before we open it’s not the planned fire drill so if the alarm does go off go out of those doors, turn right immediately and assemble in the car park over the road, ok?
There is an issue that has been raised a number of times within the Council with regards to filming of committee meetings and therefore I need to ask all those present if they consent to being filmed and if not errm, the reasons where they do not wish to be filmed and then it’s up to the Committee to make a decision with regards to that particular recommendation.
So, the issue being round if we could introduce ourselves, and then we could deal with that ..
Chair, sorry to interrupt, just I think the film is running now, so that might defeat the purpose.
COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK, is it possible to pause that film?
END OF TRANSCRIPT OF PART ONE
The applicant’s representative raised an objection to the meeting being filmed and said he was at the meeting with the Area Manager. He said he had not been told about the filming issue before the meeting and had not received instructions on this from his client.
Sergeant Barrigan of Merseyside Police said he had no objections to the meeting being filmed. The Wirral Council officer from environmental health said he had no objections to being filmed. The petitioners said they had no objection to being filmed.
The Chair asked Merseyside Police, the petitioners, the Wirral Council officer from Environmental Health and the public to leave whilst the councillors received advice from their legal adviser on the filming issue.
Everyone waited outside in the corridor. Margaret O’Donnell came out and spoke with the applicant’s representative out of earshot. After talking with Margaret O’Donnell the applicant’s representative talked with Sergeant Barrigan about police officers wearing cameras. Sergeant Barrigan said in the corridor that he didn’t wear a camera or body armour as both pieces of kit would slow him down if he was chasing after a suspect and put him at a disadvantage.
Eventually after a long period of time Merseyside Police, the petitioners, the Wirral Council officer from Environmental Health and the public were invited back in to Committee Room 3.
COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
Once the errm the Committee has decided whether or not to make this meeting in camera.
EITHER APPLICANT’S REPRESENTATIVE OR AREA MANAGER
There are two issues that cause me concern in relation to the errm, to the errm, to the errm, filming, not knowing what would happen to the film afterwards. Personally there is a matter which is referred to in two of the representations, more than one, errm, which is, errm, in two of the representations, which is currently I think it’s a matter before the courts in relation to those two issues affecting business. I’m not sure what questions you want to ask, in relation to that, but it’s not a matter that I have confidence on. Others the potential for prejudice if widely reported it could prejudice of that matter.
The second errm, is that, one, arising from that I have assumed that on were there any questions regarding security at this, these particular premises err as a result of that other issue which we believe err will address some of the concerns that were expressed, hopefully all those concerns that were expressed by Environmental Health and again that going into the public domain it would potentially defeat the the the security element so on that basis you will adjudicate the matter based on our concern that that could leak into the wider public domain. So for those two reasons around, I would prefer not to do it. Obviously it’s a determination for the Committee to decide on the regulations on what would be the overall regulation that would cover the matter. I would prefer that the matter wasn’t recorded and reported externally.
COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK, Sergeant Barrigan, do you have any other objections or a view errm with regard to this matter being an exempt item?
SERGEANT BARRIGAN (Merseyside Police)
I think the point Mr Grant makes in relation to the potential sub judice issue is valid, although it’s not a prosecution errm that is being conducted by Merseyside Police. Errm, the other issue in relation to security I think is more valid. The enforcement action that is being conducted by Environmental Health resulted out from some issues in relation to security that is not subject to the representations and some proposals from Mr. Grant and his guys and I don’t think it’s appropriate that that information goes into the public domain because it could muck things up in the future errm and on reflection taking that into consideration I would request that the Committee hold it in camera.
COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
Mr ???? (Environmental Health)
We’ve established that.
COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK, that’s closed, now there there’s no one else objecting? I’m going to ask for another adjournment now.
Merseyside Police, the petitioners, the Wirral Council officer from Environmental Health and the public left to the corridor leaving the three councillors with some Wirral Council officers. After a long wait, people were invited back in (for the third time!).
When everyone returned, the Chair Councillor Steve Niblock said that they had heard representations from the applicant and Merseyside Police and were excluding the public (see regulation 14(2) from the rest of the subcommittee meeting due to court proceedings.
For the purposes of this decision (see regulation 14(3) Sergeant Barrigan, the petitioners, the applicant’s representative and the area manager are all classed as “members of the public” and should have left. However they didn’t. Leonora and I proceeded to the door only to find my way blocked by Sergeant Barrigan insisting that before I left (since the redesign of Wallasey Town Hall Committee Room 3 has only one way in and out) that I delete the video footage on my camera of the public meeting! I deleted the second clip but refused to delete the first. Sergeant Barrigan wouldn’t let us leave until he got the ok from Councillor Steve Niblock that this was alright! I wonder if after we left Sergeant Barrigan (as is recommended) made a note of this conversation (conducted loud enough that everyone in the room could hear) in his notebook and if so what he put in these notes! A transcript of the second deleted video clip is above. This is a letter from 2010 Andrew Trotter, Chief Constable of the ACPO Advisory Group. I will quote from the relevant parts:
“There have been a number of recent instances highlighted in the press where officers have detained photographers and deleted images from their cameras. I seek your support in reminding your officers and staff that they should not prevent anyone from taking photographs in public. This applies equally to members of the media and public seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places. ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officer’s) guidance is as follows:
There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
We need to cooperate with the media and amateur photographers. They play a vital role as their images help us identify criminals.
We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.
Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether for the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and it undermines public confidence in the police service.
Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order.
The meeting started ten minutes late and in a different room to the advertised Committee Room 4. Cllrs present on the panel were Cllr John Salter (Labour), Cllr Steve Niblock (Labour) and Cllr Cherry Povall (Conservative). Officers of Wirral Council were David Abraham (Legal Adviser), Anne Beauchamp (Committee Clerk) and Margaret O’Donnell (Licensing Manager). Representing Merseyside Police was Sgt Jenkins. Colin Fox (the proposed Designated Premises Supervisor) was represented by Samantha Brown/Ford of Napthens Solicitors.
When everybody came back, the Chair apologised for confusing Fox and Ford.
The decision was as follows:
“We have given careful consideration to the application made by Mr. Fox for the transfer of a Premises Licence in respect of the North Star, 294 Laird Street, Birkenhead. We have listened carefully to the representations by Mr. Fox and Mrs. Ford, his legal representative. We have considered the representations made in writing and orally by Sergeant Jenkins of the Merseyside Police.
We’ve heard evidence from Merseyside Police, that they have serious concerns that the transfer of the Premises Licence to Mr. Fox would undermine the crime prevention objective. Merseyside Police gave evidence that when the premises was subject to a closure notice, it operated in a breach of that condition of the licence and an alleged serious sexual assault took place at the premises which is currently being investigated by Merseyside Police.
After these incidents have taken place, since Mr. Fox has been involved with the premises. We were not satisfied that the applicant Mr. Fox, as a holder of the Premises Licence … 2:01 to uphold the licensing objectives. We are not satisfied with the applicant’s responses, when he was asked to demonstrate what his responsibilities were and how the licensing objectives would be upheld by him, should the transfer of the Premises Licence be granted.
We also note that the applicant did not intend to take an active role in the running of the premises, that the lease… his name..
Furthermore… transfer the licence to a future … Designated Premises Supervisor.
2:47 In light of the above, we have considered it necessary to refuse the application by Mr. Fox, to transfer the Premises Licence in respect of the North Star, 294 Laird Street, Birkenhead. Thank you.
Cllr Harry Smith
Cllr Don McCubbin
Cllr Denise Roberts
Cllr Bill Davies (Chair)
Cllr Steve Niblock
Cllr Andrew Hodson
Cllr George Davies
Cllr Pat Williams
The Chair, Cllr Bill Davies asked councillors present to introduce themselves. The following councillors did, Cllr Andrew Hodson, Cllr Don McCubbin, Cllr Mike Hornby, Cllr Harry Smith, Cllr Robert Gregson, Cllr ??? (Labour), Cllr Steve Niblock, Cllr Dave Mitchell, Cllr George Davies and Cllr Pat Williams.
The officers introduced themselves as Ken Abraham, Anne Beauchamp and Margaret O’Donnell.
The Chair asked for declarations of interest. No declarations of interest were made.
Cllr Denise Roberts proposed, seconded by another Labour councillor that Cllr Steve Niblock be Vice-Chair. There were no other nominations so Cllr Niblock became Vice-Chair.
Apologies were given for Cllr John Salter who couldn’t make it due to a prior engagement.
The Chair asked if a half hour presentation was ok? He thanked people for the hard work at last year’s hearings, some of which had lasted over three hours. He said he was keen that the two new members of the committee take part in training, which he hoped all the committee would take part because of changes to the legislation.
Margaret O’Donnell had a Powerpoint presentation to show the Committee. She didn’t know how to start a slide show in Powerpoint, received some prompting from the Vice-Chair and somebody else assisted her and was then able to progress to the next slide. Cllr Harry Smith said that the Vice-Chair was showing off.
She went into detail about representations, changes happening as a result of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 and how representations by ward councillors had changed. She detailed what the four licensing objectives are and how representations had to be linked to one or more of these. Margaret O’Donnell also referred to the statutory guidance and Wirral Council’s licensing policy.
The Chair asked if they all had a copy? Margaret offered to put one in their pigeon holes. Cllr Williams asked if it had changed. Margaret O’Donnell answered yes. She said previously they had to review the Council’s policy every three years, now it was five, she would review it and bring a draft to the committee for consultation. Once it had been consulted on, it required the approval of the full Council, so she would start reviewing and redrafting it.
A councillor asked when? She said she was not certain as they did not meet until November and there were further legislative changes in October, plus things could change before then.