We have recently had a fantastic opportunity to do a Q&A with Andy Grimsey of Poppleston Allen. It was a fantastic opportunity to press him on the future of the Industry and how he sees things shaping up for the future!
Can you give me an introduction to Andy Grimsey of PA, and why you have a passion for events and festivals and the application licensing within this sector?
I have been a lawyer for 25 years and I have practised exclusively in alcohol and entertainment licensing for the last 15 years. I co-wrote the Live Music Act 2012, advising on its course through both Houses of Parliament. I was a Member of the Government’s Live Music Special Guidance and Entertainment Licensing Technical Reform Groups and assisted in the redrafting of the Statutory Guidance.
I was an expert legal witness to the House of Lords Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 and I have written, published and trained in respect of licensing for many years.
I am the Editor of Poppleston Allen’s Legal Column in the Morning Advertiser, a position I have held for six years.
I have appeared in licensing hearings at well in excess of 100 different Councils in England and Wales.
I act for pubs, nightclubs and other licensed premises, including Racecourses to obtain them premises licences and to ensure they keep them. I have a particular interest in outdoor events, particularly festivals. The reason for this is that much of the regular work that I do is the rolling out of a “concept” around the country and there is an element of one size fits all to it. Festivals and other events are fascinating, however; you cannot really “roll out” a festival concept (or not very easily!) – the contours of the land, the meanderings of rivers, the friendliness or otherwise of local residents make sure of that. Festival and events’ organisers always strike me as having a wonderfully creative and imaginative approach, and dare I say non-corporate? A typical event or festival application will be much more complicated than a pub or a restaurant application and the input of Authorities who would not normally be directly involved in the licensing process, through the Safety Advisory Group, is evidence of that. On the way to licensing various festivals and outdoor events I have encountered castles and canal boats and everything in-between, and had to deal with issues as wide-ranging as the impact of noise on multi-million pound racehorses in their stables; the risk of fireworks being set off from the top of a Grade II listed stately home (with commensurately flammable roofing); laser shows and fireworks affecting astronomers using an observatory in an internationally recognised “Dark Skies” Park; the number of weeks that fields should be cleared of sheep (and therefore their dung) before campers can be permitted; whether monkeys benefit from the same noise legislation as humans; and the amount of sand that needs to be used to secure a stage that may be susceptible to blowing away in a tornado (yes a tornado). You do not get that list of issues with Joe’s Takeaway Pizza Shop.
How have you seen the sector change in terms of Operators, business types and licensing landscape over the last decade?
I can only really speak from my own experience but it does seem to me that the Authorities over the years have come to see the premises licence as the main tool for controlling and regulating activities that go on at licensed premises, including events and festivals. Much of the legislation outside the Licensing Act is reactive, so for example, the Environmental Protection Act allows EHOs to issue Noise Abatement Notices, and whilst it is possible to issue a pre-emptive Noise Abatement Notice the majority are of course issued once a noise nuisance has been witnessed. Similarly, with fire-related issues the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 has shifted the responsibility for risk assessments in respect of fire and other safety matters to the Responsible Person, usually the premises owner/operator. Certainly, the Police can sometimes feel that despite concerns about an event which they would probably prefer not to go ahead at all they cannot object to it outright as they do not have the evidence, so instead they require long and detailed conditions to be placed on the licence to withdraw their objections. This can sometimes apply to Environmental Health regarding noise as well. There is often an element of horse-trading involved here which strikes me as going against the spirit of the Licensing Act – the classic argument, “We do that anyway so why put it on as a condition on the licence?” can fall either side of the fence, depending on the Licensing Authority you may be in front of. Some will get that argument and trust the operator; some will require a condition despite assurances and evidence that the measure in question has always been carried out. And quite frankly it is almost always too costly to appeal any decision so you are stuck with it.
One is therefore faced with a situation where the Police’s powers to close down an event either before it even starts or during it are quite heavily (and rightly) circumscribed by legislation, which prompts them to require detailed conditions on the licence. This, in turn, can result in a clunky many-paged document which I struggle to see how many people could remember all the terms and conditions therein. What is really needed is an element of trust, and trust comes from dialogue, and dialogue is best started early.
What I have seen over the years with events and festivals is an appreciation from both sides that give the Authorities early notice (minimum 6-9 months) allows everybody to get around a table and discuss their concerns. Having the certainty of a premises licence granted also assists with booking bands of course.
More generally, the Licensing Act 2003 blew away any traditional distinctions between nightclubs and pubs and bars or other types of event. You can now be a traditional pub with a dance floor that stays open until 3am or 4am. This transformation had a significant impact on the nightclub industry which is well documented. The smoking ban in 2007 equally had an effect, particularly on community pubs – why shiver outside in a smoking area when you can drink from cans and smoke back at home?
More recently, we have seen the casual dining sector hit by high rents, oversupply and perhaps a lack of fascination from the public in yet another new “concept” appearing on the High Street. There is only so much good staff in any particular town to work at these premises, so not only the quality of the food but the quality of the service can be affected. Coupled with that is the rise of the delivery companies, and the Government was a little behind the curve in terms of amending the Statutory Guidance insofar as the delivery of alcohol is concerned. The Licensing Act itself has not been amended but the Guidance has, to effectively “expect” applicants or existing operators to let the Licensing Authority know if they are proposing to deliver alcohol to people’s doorsteps. This possibly was not even considered back in 2003 / 2004 when the Licensing Bill as it then was going through the Houses of Parliament.
Essentially, the Licensing Act and premises licence are an incredibly powerful tool, both for operators and for the Authorities. With sufficient imagination and starting with a blank piece of paper, anybody can craft a document which strikes the right balance between regulatory control and creative flair. The process is far from perfect but it is not so broken as to require wholesale replacement.
With the growth in the sector, how can the government support the sector in terms of license application infrastructure & legislation change?
I have mentioned before my concern about the Additional Fee which is payable for events of over 5,000 capacity. This fee can reach tens of thousands of pounds depending upon the number of people attending (including staff/performers). If a full Variation to an existing licence is required (perhaps to amend the sale of alcohol time for an additional half hour) then this additional fee is required to be paid for a typical festival or event in a Green Field site (the rules do not apply quite the same to events where there is an existing infrastructure in place). I really do not think it is fair that a festival for maybe 17,000 people has to pay a fee of £4,635 to the Council for their application fee, and then £4,335 again if they have to amend their licence very slightly perhaps because of some change that was unforeseeable in the original application. Some Authorities are more understanding in cases like this, but you can hardly blame them if they require what is statutorily theirs in these cash-strapped times.
One of the biggest issues for events and festivals is noise. Local neighbours obviously do not like noise, (I like the neat definition of noise as ‘unwanted sound’). What constitutes an “acceptable” level of noise disturbance from an event is horribly messy, with Guidance documents, legislation, Environmental Health Officers and acoustic experts often saying completely different things. The Agent of Change principle, whilst welcome, is hardly going to clarify matters. Maybe on balance operators benefit from this muddle but I always think that clarity is better than confusion. In short, we all know that festivals and outdoor events can cause a degree of noise disturbance to their neighbours – the question is how many times per year is it permitted to happen, and to what degree? Nobody seems prepared to grab the bull by its horns.
Another issue which might sound minor but can be seriously problematic is the siting of notices when applications are issued. For larger sites, these public notices advertising the application need to be placed every 50 metres along the public highway, but frankly, this is often impossible and/or completely pointless. There is absolutely no point sticking up notices by the side of a road where the average car speed is 55mph. The Government could make it clear that physical notices that need to be displayed and the location of the physical notices that need to be displayed in festivals and other outdoor events’ applications should only be at those places where the public can reasonably be expected to see them, for example, main entrances and exits.
Are Safety Action Groups necessary in terms of event/festival license application, or do you believe there is a gap in terms of skillset from a governance perspective through the application process?
For all but the most basic events, I believe Safety Advisory Groups are necessary and desirable. Of course, you get certain individuals who have their own empire but in the main, the Authorities who sit on these Groups are there to advise and assist (and have some bowel-loosening enforcement powers if you get it wrong, to boot). If I was running a festival I would make use of them, and early on. The Licensing Authority invariably sits on the SAG (in my experience), where a SAG exists at all and very often the Senior Licensing Officer is the Chair of the SAG. This seems to tie up the two regimes nicely but one does have to ask questions about the power of a non-statutory body (i.e. the Safety Advisory Group) and its role in relation to a statutory process, namely licensing. There is a risk of duplication and over prescription of conditions and requirements. If, for example, the SAG wants a finalised Event Safety Plan four weeks before the event before it will give its (non-statutory blessing) to an event, is there really any need for a hundred conditions on the licence which replicate the main points of that Event Safety Plan? In reality, only the most foolish operators would proceed without the SAG’s blessing. The alternative argument of course, and there are certainly events that have gone ahead without SAG’s blessing and indeed in breach of licence conditions, is that the licence conditions are part of that toolset that I referred to earlier that many of the Authorities see as so vital in regulating and controlling larger scale events. I am not keen on bringing for example, the Ambulance Service, the Highways Department of the Council or the Food Hygiene Team into the licensing process as three additional Responsible Authorities to the existing 10 for obvious reasons – the room is quite full as it is but they do have a part to play in many events and festivals. I am also not keen on well-run festivals being littered with lots of conditions, but perhaps one that is appropriate and necessary is that the SAG should be formally notified of an event within a certain time frame (perhaps three months) and secondly that the SAG should receive a finalised Event Safety Plan also in good time.
Have you seen a migration of license applications in terms of volume covering bricks and mortar sites to greenfield sites and bespoke locations through event licensing?
Again anecdotally there do seem to be more events at Green Field sites. We see these both through TENs (limited to 499 people per TEN) and indeed premises licence applications. The statistics can be a bit misleading though, as a TEN may only apply for authorisation for the sale of alcohol but there may actually be music being played at the event, but that music does not require a licence because of deregulation under the Live Music Act and other legislation. I think to a degree, events in Green Field sites are ultimately self-limiting, in that ultimately there is a limited number of suitable sites, weekends in the year and willing attendees. These numbers will undoubtedly increase but ultimately there must be a ceiling. I have certainly seen landowners have their fingers burned by badly run events who are subsequently much more careful as to whom they let their land out to going forward.
Is there room for a more informed, experienced representation from local authorities and Police for events and festivals for the purposes of a license application, with the continued growth of the sector?
There is always room for improvement. Many authorities have very experienced staff who understand the complexities of these types of events – others don’t. I know both the Police nationally and local authorities through various member organisations offer training on festivals and safety at events. I’m not sure a ‘dedicated’ officer could be justified but certainly, everyone in the licensing process can benefit from practical examples and information-sharing. Perhaps dialogue between the NTIA, the Local Government Association, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Institute of Licensing could move that forward.
Do you think that Events and Festivals have a positive impact on communities across the UK?
Yes, most certainly. We are a creative country and our events and festivals industry proves that over and over again. Organisers do always, however, have to bear in mind that the specific communities in which their events may be taking place may not all share the love for that particular brand of music or vibe or whatever. I have always thought that the word “courtesy” is rarely used in licensing but is actually incredibly powerful. Very often, local residents will put up with absolute pandemonium so long as they have been treated courteously before and after. It is a funny thing with the British public. The benefit to those local communities of course, and indeed the wider community is that they may get to see a new and different perspective on life and music which they would otherwise not have a chance to see or hear.
What would you like to see in terms of legislation change for the events sector over the next decade?
Noise – I would like to see consistency with regard to the application of noise nuisance legislation. We live on a crowded island and all of us, even in the most tranquil of settings must expect a bit of noise and disruption once in a while. Establishing a firm but reasonable level for what that disturbance and disruption would be would go a long way to providing clarity for both organisers and local residents alike and, I suspect, separate the good operators from the bad.
Cumulative Impact Policies – in urban areas many towns and cities have Cumulative Impact Policies which make it extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, to apply for a new licence. Due to recent legislation many Authorities are having to review their Cumulative Impact Policies and it is to be hoped that when these Policies are renewed, they will be based upon up to date, accurate and proportionate evidence about existing levels of crime, disorder and nuisance – many Policies in the past have become stale but have been difficult to challenge.