As revealed first on BigHospitality’s sister publication the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, Hartlepool Borough Council this week abandoned plans to ban alcohol sales in the town centre between 2am and 6am.
Following a hearing based on 35 representations, the Council rejected pleas from Cleveland Police and the Safer Hartlepool Partnership.
Councillor Ray Wells, chairman of the Council's Licensing Committee, said: "Hartlepool Borough Council does not believe that any level of violence or anti-social behaviour should be regarded as an acceptable or inevitable consequence of a vibrant night-time economy.
“The Committee recognised the great work that has been done to reduce crime and disorder in the town centre and believes more still needs to be done. However, it decided that the potential negative impact on local businesses was too great to introduce an EMRO at this moment in time.”
But what are EMROs, what would the impact of them really be on pubs and are other councils likely to consider adopting them despite Hartlepool’s decision?
What are Early Morning Restriction Orders?
The framework for EMROs was first outlined in the Licensing Act of 2003 but they did not become law until the Government passed the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 and they finally came into force in October last year.
The orders allow licensing authorities to restrict the sale of alcohol for the whole or part of their area for any period of time between 12 midnight and 6am.
Hartlepool’s rejection means no council has yet decided to introduce an EMRO.
Who decides if they come into force?
Local licensing authorities ultimately decide if they wish to exercise the power of EMROs.
However, before introducing Early Morning Restriction Orders, local councils must produce evidence which justifies their introduction.
They must also advertise their plans and consider representations from concerned organisations and individuals before taking any action.
How do EMROs differ from the Late Night Levy?
The Late Night Levy (LNL) is another power which has been provided to licensing authorities by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
The levy would allow local authorities to charge alcohol-supplying businesses for the extra enforcement costs which the Government claims come with an increased night-time economy.
Councils in Newcastle and Milton Keynes are considering introducing a LNL.
Unlike the EMRO, the LNL would have to apply to the whole of the relevant authority’s geographic area.
However there could be discounts or exemptions for certain businesses such as those which sign up to best practice schemes such as Pubwatch or Best Bar None. There are no such exemptions allowed for venues affected by an EMRO.
Are there any exemptions?
Businesses which supply alcohol to people through mini-bars or room service, such as hotels, would not be subject to any EMRO.
New Year’s Eve would also be a day of national exemption.
What would the impact of EMROs be on pubs?
The Home Office has allowed licensing authorities to introduce EMROs if they consider them ‘appropriate’ in ‘promoting licensing objectives’.
In theory the powers are designed to give local communities the power to tackle alcohol-related problems.
However pub companies have claimed EMROs would not tackle crime and could have a negative impact.
Fears include a large number of drinkers leaving pubs at the same time, the ‘moving on’ of alcohol-related problems and the general negative impact on the local area’s wider night-time economy.
What happens next?
The simple answer is we don’t know. Licensing legal experts believe only a few councils are considering the power and Hartlepool’s rejection may well put more off the idea.
A recent survey of 363 councils carried out by licensing law firm John Gaunt & Partners found that 77 per cent had no plans to introduce an EMRO.
Early Morning Restriction Orders are, according to the survey, marginally more popular with licensing authorities than the LNL but just 8 per cent of councils said they were considering one and only if they could find enough evidence to justify their introduction.
Blackpool Council is known to be keen on introducing an EMRO but had delayed its consultation on the plans. A local petition has been launched against the proposal and a final decision is expected on 15 May.
Speaking to BigHospitality about the Hartlepool decision this week, Gaunt said: “There is a degree of caution on the part of licensing authorities as to whether or not they want to pursue these things.
“If it had sailed through then that might have given succour to those licensing authorities that are considering EMROs but the fact that it didn’t and that the police case wasn’t very strong will discourage others who might be thinking about them at the moment.
“It came down to a resourcing issue at a time when crime and disorder rates in Hartlepool have effectively been slashed.
“The fact that Hartlepool hasn’t gone through will cause everybody to stop, pause and think,” he added.