Cardiff’s rules around licensed premises have been accused of favouring larger chains over independent bars and restaurants, making the city centre “stagnant”.
Pubs, bars and restaurants need a premises licence to sell alcohol, to make sure they help keep the public safe and prevent crime. Takeaways also need a licence to sell food late at night.
Of the 1,400 licensed premises in Cardiff, more than 300 are restaurants; nearly 300 are pubs, bars and nightclubs; 200 are convenience stores; and 130 are takeaways. There are also six theatres, 50 sports clubs, stadiums, bowling alleys, cinemas, art galleries and hotels.
The city centre is home to more than 300 premises within a 0.5 square mile area. These premises must follow tighter licensing rules, due to the increased amount of alcohol-related crime in the city centre, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
These rules are known as the ‘cumulative impact policy’, which aims to discourage more bars and takeaways opening up, to keep the city centre safe.
But a prominent lawyer representing licensed premises has criticised the policy, arguing independent bars and restaurants find it harder to stick to the stringent rules than large nationwide chains — making the city centre “stagnant” and less diverse.
Cardiff council, which grants premises licences, is currently updating its licensing rules, including the cumulative impact policy. The council recently consulted local experts on the rules.
Responding to the consultation, Matthew Phipps, head of licensing for TLT Solicitors, said the rules “impede businesses and the development of a thriving economy”.
Mr Phipps said: “We have represented a number of potential operators who have wanted to open premises, but have decided not to go ahead once the likely consequences of the policy are explained to them.
“This has included innovative small business operators, looking to open their first premises, as well as more established operators. The effect can be that premises in the city centre remain boarded up, when they could be otherwise occupied and benefiting the city.
“If applications proceed, they are more often than not by well-funded national operators, who can fund the legal hurdles the policy imposes — perhaps inadvertently undermining the council’s stated aim of introducing a diverse range of premises within the city centre.
“Put another way, such policies also promote ubiquity and stagnation, as the only operators willing to take on the risk and outlay of applying in cumulative impact zones are larger, established chains, with the financial backing to fight for a licence.
“Given the plight of the casual dining market in recent times, evidenced by the spate of closures across Cardiff from local and national operators alike, this is an issue that needs to be taken seriously.”
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Responding to the concerns, the council said the impact of pubs, nightclubs and takeaways in the city centre makes it harder to prevent crime; but the evidence will be reviewed regularly.
In the consultation, licensing officers said: “The [council] has received satisfactory evidence demonstrating the cumulative impact of licensed premises selling alcohol and providing late night refreshment in the city centre is undermining the promotion of the licensing objectives.
“The evidence and the cumulative impact assessment will, however, continue to be reviewed every three years, and where necessary, changes will be made.”
Another concern raised was around crimes committed by “street dwellers”. Nick Newman, chair of the Cardiff Licensees Forum, represents licensed premises in the city centre and at Cardiff Bay.
Mr Newman said: “I see little, if any, referral to the huge increase in anti-social behaviour and so-called low level crime carried out by ‘street dwellers’, who seem to act for the most part with total impunity to what we should consider the norms of civilised society.
“I would like to see the extent to which low level, but nonetheless seriously distressing crime and disorder on the streets is caused by those hanging around doorways and in the streets.
“They are there throughout the day and night — abusing workers and visitors going about their lawful business, and causing a mess which, if anyone else did the same, would lead to likely arrest and prosecution.
“Yet council workers and others seem unable to deal with the detritus left by a seemingly ‘untouchable’ clique.”
In response the council again said the evidence shows licensed premises make it harder to prevent crime and keep the public safe.
Licensing officers said: “It is considered that the evidence received supports the negative cumulative impact licensed premises have on the licensing objectives within the city centre.”
Councillors on the licensing committee were due to review the updated policies at a meeting on Tuesday, September 1. But only seven out of 10 turned up to the meeting, so it legally couldn’t go ahead and was adjourned.