Midnight curfews for new pubs and clubs on way as Hackney Council set to sign off controversial licensing policy

The Old Blue Last. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Old Blue Last. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Hackney Council looks set to plough ahead with its hugely unpopular plans to impose a midnight curfew on new bars.

The new licensing policy proposals were published in January after more than two years in the making, and are finally set to be voted on at next week’s full council meeting.

Of the 680 people who responded to a consultation on the changes, most of whom said they lived in the borough, 73 per cent were against them.

The council says it wants to strike a balance that would allow the borough’s world-famous night-time economy to thrive in areas like Shoreditch and Dalston while keeping neighbours happy. To do this, it wants to get diversity among the night-time offerings – not just areas full of drink-focused pubs and clubs.

Its plans to limit new venues include: doubling the Shoreditch special policy area (SPA) in size; slapping a 10pm curfew on outdoor activities; and shutting venues at 11pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends. It’s safe to say they’ve not gone down well.

Of the 272 who responded to a consultation question on whether the “core hours” curfew proposals would help promote the licensing objectives, 84 per cent said no. And 76pc were against plans to double the Shoreditch SPA.

And We Love Hackney – a campaign group formed by business owners, clubgoers and locals that successfully saw off similar plans in 2015 – said the changes would make Shoreditch become “as soulless as Leicester Square”.

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The group said extending the SPA – which essentially makes it harder to open a venue in the area – would be disastrous. “It has already caused stagnation of the night-time economy and puts Shoreditch’s reputation for innovative and diverse venues at risk,” it said.

On the curfews, the group added: “In the most creative borough in the world’s greatest 24-hour city, it is laughable to expect people to go home at 11pm in the week and midnight at weekends. Laws limiting hours to that extent were first brought in during the First World War but removed by the Licensing Act 2003.”

But the town hall is sticking to its guns. Answering the negative reaction to the survey, it said: “The data has shown that there is a lot of negativity towards the proposals, but it is difficult – with the limited qualitative information – to conclude as to why.”

And ahead of the meeting the council has elaborated on why it thinks those people are wrong. On the potential harm to current nightlife, a report states it “is difficult to see how the policy would harm existing operations”.

“If anything, the desire to use the policy to diversify the offer is more likely to complement them,” it reads.

On the SPAs stunting growth and innovation, the report adds: “The council would always remain flexible in its approach.”

We Love Hackney also pointed to Sadiq Khan’s vision for London to become a 24-hour city in their objections. But the town hall said there was “nothing” in the policy that conflicts with those aims, adding the mayor’s vision was to promote all culture and leisure, not just pubs and clubs. It has also said the “core hours” curfew is not a blanket approach and venues could be given later licences if they can prove it won’t cause problems.

A cost benefits analysis found, although the borough’s night-time economy brings in £93m against a cost of £24m overall, the council itself sees a loss. It costs the borough £3.6m but brings in £2.1m. It also found in the more food-focused Stoke Newington, there was much less alcohol-related crime than Shoreditch, which is the biggest generator of social and economic costs.

“From an economic strategy perspective, it makes sense to promote those aspects of the NTE that generate fewer costs in relation to the benefits,” the report states. “This is also a stance that sits well with Hackney’s policies. This, in effect, points to entertainment and food as ‘safer bets’.”