Hackney Council unanimously approves hugely unpopular licensing policy with ‘core’ midnight curfews

Ballie Ballerson in Curtain Road shown in a file image of Shoreditch nightlife. Picture: Polly Hanco

Ballie Ballerson in Curtain Road shown in a file image of Shoreditch nightlife. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Councillors last night approved a new licensing policy for Hackney that will introduce “core” midnight curfews for all new venues – insisting the plans won’t harm the borough’s thriving and creative nightlife.

Ballie Ballerson in Curtain Road shown in a file image of Shoreditch nightlife. Picture: Polly Hanco

Ballie Ballerson in Curtain Road shown in a file image of Shoreditch nightlife. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The decision was unanimous and comes in the wake of widespread outrage about the plans, which campaigners fear will stunt innovation and push out indie venues.

The town hall says the fresh policy is intended to strike a difficult balance between enabling the clubs and pubs to thrive and supporting neighbours and council tenants on estates in the area. It also wants to see more diversity, not just bars and clubs.

As reported in the Gazette’s front page story last week, a consultation on the plans received 680 responses from people, most of whom lived in the borough. Of those, 73 per cent were against the plans, which have been two years in the making.

As well as the midnight weekend curfew, any new venues opening anywhere in the borough will have to argue against an 11pm closing time during the week. The “core hours” will only be extended if licensees can show it won’t cause anti-social behaviour problems. A 10pm curfew for outdoor activities will also be in place, with the same exemptions applying.

The Shoreditch special policy area (SPA), which essentially makes it harder to open a venue in the area, will also double in size.

A 4,000-strong campaign group called We Love Hackney, which was formed to successfully fight similar plans in 2015, had whipped up opposition in the last week.

Supports of the campaign include Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon fast-food chain, Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos and Jonathan Downey, founder of Street Feast – which has a venue in Shoreditch.

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Following the decision, We Love Hackney said they were devastated and called the plans “some of the toughest restrictions on nightlife in Britain”.

Mr Downey said: “This is a disgraceful decision and a shameful failure of elected officials to listen to the views of residents. It is disastrous for the life and vibrancy of Hackney nightlife. This is not over though and we will not be ignored.”

Earlier in the day licensing committee chair Cllr Emma Plouviez, who helped draft the policy, defended it, saying it would not harm Hackney’s nightlife and that each application would still be judged on its own merits.

On the core hours restrictions, she said: “The onus will be on new applicants to demonstrate they are responsible, understand the pressures on the area and that their business will not have a negative impact on the area if they want to open late.

“We will help and support them to do that.

“Without these steps we face a potential situation where the licensing committee could be forced to approve late licences for venues that are completely unsuitable and will have a huge impact on residents’ lives.”

Mayor Phil Glanville, who had been asked to shut down the policy, insisted it would not damage well-run businesses or impact on the borough’s “creative and dynamic nightlife”.

He also said allegations of gentrification were “nonsense” and revealed the council had been speaking to Sadiq Khan’s night czar Amy Lamé about the policy for the last year.

Ms Lamé has been criticised for her silence on the issue over the last week, but yesterday she took to Twitter to simply state: “Local authorities are responsible for licensing decisions, not the Mayor of London or the night czar.”

We Love Hackney maintain the way to support the nightlife is not through bassline rules, and argue the policy doesn’t fit in with the mayor’s vision of London as a 24-hour city.

In an open letter to the council, they had said: “The policy is a gift to big corporates and risks turning Shoreditch into a bland replica of Leicester Square.

“By doubling the SPA the value of licences in these areas will shoot up, freezing out local businesses or young people just starting out.

“A borough wide core hours policy and 10pm closing time for outdoors areas will kill innovation.”

They added: “It’s exactly the approach Soho took 15 years ago – which ironically led to indie venues heading east to Shoreditch.”

While drafting the policy, a cost benefits analysis found Hackney’s nightlife left the council £1.5million out of pocket each year through social and economic costs like cleaning and borough-level enforcement,

It also found in the more food-focused Stoke Newington, there was much less alcohol-related crime than Shoreditch.

“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’.”