Policies split on late-night hours

Aberdeen and Glasgow have very different ideas on closing times

Glasgow City Chambers
Glasgow has proposed allowing city centre nightclubs to open until 4am

LICENSING boards across the country are consulting on their new policy statements that need to be in place by November – and potential game-changing moves are emerging.

The Glasgow board looks set to launch a pilot scheme allowing a 4am terminal licensed hour for late-night entertainment premises in the city centre presently licensed until 3am. It’s a move intended to recognise the importance of the city’s night time economy which – according to research carried out by Glasgow Caledonian University – generates £2.16 billon per annum for the city and supports over 16,000 full-time jobs.

The board has been told that a “European” approach could reduce the incentive to consume alcohol at the end of the night as well and encourage a more gradual dispersal of customers.

If the proposal goes ahead, getting an application for the 4am finish across the line won’t simply be a matter of filling out a form and writing a cheque for £160. Rather, operators seeking to take advantage of the pilot will need to demonstrate an investment in safety and security designed to support the licensing objectives.

Factors taken into account by the board could include Best Bar None awards, evidence of a commitment to staff training and a policy of reducing reliance on single-use plastic.

The scheme will be subject to a trial period with a review after 12 months.

The draft policy leaves undisturbed the current standard licensed hours running from 11am to 12 midnight each day of the week, with the possibility of later opening restricted to late-night entertainment venues, restaurants, dedicated function rooms and casinos.

At the last policy review in 2013 the board looked set to add an extra hour for pubs, but an unenthusiastic response from some trade groups saw the plan ditched.

But there’s another significant change.

Aberdeen City’s new approach to late opening is the boldest policy shift I’ve seen.

Currently, premises with at least 75 per cent of the floor area given over to full restaurant facilities are able to trade until 1am. It seems that some operators have been using the extra hour to accommodate customers simply seeking a drink. That loophole will be plugged by a condition so that, after midnight, the sale and consumption of alcohol will be restricted to persons taking a meal with the drink ancillary to the food.

While Glasgow grabbed the headlines, another city is consulting on a radically new approach to late opening – probably the boldest policy shift I’ve ever seen.

As the Aberdeen City licensing board policy stands, the maximum trading hours depend upon a range of factors, including the location of the premises (within or outwith the city centre) and the provision or otherwise of “significant entertainment”.

Meeting the level of entertainment required allows trading until 2am Sundays to Thursdays and 3am Fridays and Saturdays throughout the whole of the board’s area.

Without “significant entertainment” the terminal hour is midnight all week except for city centre premises where there’s an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays. Restaurants all over the city can stay open until 1am.

The proposed new policy issued for consultation takes a scythe to pages of detail and distinguishes only between premises in the city centre and those outwith.

The “significant entertainment” criterion would be abandoned – and the result is a seismic shift.

City centre premises could trade until 2am on Sundays to Thursdays and 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Otherwise the latest terminal hour would be midnight Sundays to Thursdays and 1am Fridays and Saturdays.

City-wide, the “earliest acceptable opening time” would remain 10am but with a ban on continuous trading beyond 15 hours (currently 14 hours).

A level playing field between bars and entertainment venues is a bold move that contrasts starkly with the Glasgow approach – but as reported in the last issue of SLTN there are already predictions that it could sound the death knell for Aberdeen’s nightclubs.

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Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.

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