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Are cumulative impact policies yesterday’s news?

Paddy Whur examines the latest developments in relation to cumulative impact policies.

We have written before about many authority areas suspending their cumulative impact policies as the leisure and entertainment industry fight back from COVID. Some authority areas are steadfast sticking to their cumulative impact policies, whereas many have removed them altogether. What is very clear from my recent experience is that quality applications by quality operators involving significant pre-application liaison with statutory authorities are being well received.

I have recently had licences granted for a new Banyan and a new Manahatta in listed buildings in the centre of Nottingham. These premises are both situated in where the cumulative impact policy used to bite. However, Nottingham have taken an enlightened view and removed their cumulative impact policy, so to allow for quality operators to make applications and liaise with the statutory authorities. Both of the applications in Nottingham were the subject of considerable pre-application and post-application negotiation with the Police and Responsible Authorities. I am certain, knowing the landscape from years of experience in Nottingham, that both of these applications would have been resisted but for the change in the cumulative impact policy. These are two fabulous listed buildings where Arc Inspirations will invest multi-million pounds in bringing the premises back to life and thereafter, contributing to the local economy through the payment of business rates and bringing about of significant local employment. Arc Inspirations have been keen to make a presence in Nottingham, believing that their premises will be well received and will promote the licensing objectives.

One area which has not removed its cumulative impact area is Newcastle. Arc Inspirations had aspired to open a Manahatta in the former Allied Irish bank in Collingwood Street, Newcastle, for over three years. Obviously, their plans were put on hold during the COVID period. Newcastle determined not to remove their cumulative impact policy, and the premises fell within their special stress area. Prior to the application being lodged, we held a number of meetings with the responsible authorities. However, they felt that there was a need to support the cumulative impact policy and representations were made by the Police, the Licensing Authority, Environmental Health, Public Health, ward councillors, residents and local businesses. In the run up to the heavily contested hearing, we maintained a contact with all of these parties and spoke to them in detail about our case, and why we felt that the application was “exceptional” and should be allowed, even though against policy. The matter went to a full hearing in front of the Licensing Sub-Committee, who determined that in all of the circumstances, we had satisfied them, that this was an exception, and that the benefit to Newcastle far outweighed any potential for compromise to the licensing objectives. The pre-application work and Arc’s track record, both in Newcastle and nationally, went a long way towards the licence being granted.

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We are also in the process of lodging applications in Liverpool and Bristol, where the cumulative impact policies have been removed, and we have had a fabulous reception in relation to the pre-application negotiations with all of the responsible authorities.

It is very clear that there is a huge amount of square footage available on most high streets due to the significant decline in retail operations. An enlightened view of cumulative impact policies, and their current relevance, is now being seen.

I have long been an opponent of cumulative impact policies. My view has always been that they can create an artificial ceiling where existing operators – in an area that is deemed as being under stress – can have little incentive to improve their offer or reinvest. They are sure and certain that no new licences can come in and drive up quality. I think they can have an adverse effect on an area. If there is no cumulative impact policy – any application can still be judged as to whether it is going to promote the licensing objectives or whether it would have an adverse effect.

It would be interesting to see whether other authority areas follow suit with those that are removing their cumulative impact policies. I am certainly seeing that operators who could really bring a fabulous offer to an area, are picking towns where they know that they will be welcomed. Many are looking to bring about multi-million pound investments, creating jobs but with a limited budget. In all of those circumstances, they are bound to pick areas where they feel they will be well received.

Manchester City Centre has long been a fabulous example of an environment where the lack of a cumulative impact policy shows a significant example of investment from first class operators who promote the licensing objectives.

Long live the enlightened view.

Paddy Whur is a partner at Woods Whur.

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