Ravers Dance Through Loopholes

Another loophole has been discovered in Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell’s new licensing laws, which means raves lasting up to four days and with crowds of up to 500 will be allowed without the U.K. public having any right to object.

Only days before the end of the consultation period (October 5), council leaders called on ministers to rethink proposals that would allow temporary licences to be issued without taking into account the concerns of residents about noise or nuisance.

Two of the major policy changes in the new regs mean councils will now take responsibility for entertainment and liquor licences, while only police will be able to object to temporary licences – and then only on the grounds of law and order.

The blueprint for the new law says, “No objection may be given on grounds relating to the other three licensing objectives,” which are the prevention of public nuisances such as noise as well as public safety and the protection of children.

The government says it wants the new laws to have a “light touch” and save small community groups from having to fill in reams of paperwork before holding the occasional quiz or bingo night, but the limits it’s set on the size and duration of such events mean that small 24-hour drinking events lasting up to four days will slip through the net.

As the new rules stand, each event may have up to 499 people, including staff and organisers, attending at any time and may last for a maximum of 96 hours.

A department of culture, media and sport consultation paper says the new system is “intended to strike a balance between the rights of residents living close to premises where permitted temporary activities may take place” and the desire to put in place “a liberal and light touch regime.” But the local governments that have to administer the new setup say the law is too soft.

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, told The Daily Telegraph that councils are concerned the new Act would allow potentially disruptive events to go ahead with no input from residents or from councils.

“There would be no discretion to act in the best interests of the community,” Bruce-Lockhart said.

“This new regime was meant to be about giving more power to the people, yet local residents would not be able to lodge any objections.

“There is clearly something very wrong that needs to be addressed speedily,” he explained.

At present, magistrates can issue “occasional permissions” for the sale of alcohol at events and may attach any condition they consider fit.

Culture Secretary Jowell, whose new licensing laws have come under attack from almost every faction affected by them, has said she intends to keep the limits set out in the Act but may be prepared to vary the numbers “if experience showed the existing limits were either unnecessary or not sufficiently restrictive.”

The government appears to be deflecting all criticism of the new law – which is scheduled to come into force November 24 – by promising that the details will be reviewed after it’s been in operation for three months. But it’s already been forced to write to local authorities saying that it agrees the guidelines will need a second look.

At the beginning of the year, amid rumours that Jowell’s new licensing laws included an extra levy against events with more than 6,000 people (amusingly dubbed a “fun tax”), the U.K.’s Concert Promoters Association (CPA) complained that it hadn’t been consulted on any aspect of the proposed legislation.

“If Tessa Jowell becomes chancellor, there won’t be any festivals,” said leading CPA figure and Live 8 promoter Harvey Goldsmith.

Jowell’s new law came in for further criticism in August when a survey by distiller Glenfiddich suggested that, rather than increase the number of venues staging live music, it was likely that the the daily average number of U.K. gigs would be cut by half.

As soon as the new proposals were drafted, New Musical Express showed concerns that the cost of the new licence (which varies from local council to local council) would prohibit many pubs and bars from putting on live entertainment.

— John Gammon