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Peers renew call for coordinated licensing and planning systems and adoption of 'Agent of Change' in licensing guidance

No “practical progress has been made" to address the lack of coordination between the licensing and planning systems, a House of Lords committee which first recommended changes five years ago has said.

The Government should also establish a mechanism for licensing and planning systems to work together and communicate effectively and adopt the 'Agent of Change' principle in guidance accompanying the Licensing Act 2003 to tackle the problem, according to peers.

In 2017, the same committee –The House of Lords Liaison Committee – said that coordination between the licensing and planning systems "can and should begin immediately in all local authorities".

It also concluded that the act's accompanying section 182 guidance should be amended to make clear that a licensing committee, "far from ignoring any relevant decision already taken by a planning committee, should take it into account and where appropriate follow it; and vice versa".

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A follow-up report, published this week (11 July), noted that the committee is "disappointed that no practical progress has been made to address the lack of coordination between the licensing and planning systems. It is clear that issues between the two systems remain and we regret that there has been no initiative from Government to take forward the work undertaken to explore solutions".

The new report said that the Government should work with the Institute of Licensing, the Local Government Association and other interested parties to establish a clear mechanism for licensing and planning systems to work together and communicate effectively. As part of the process, the Government should trial these mechanisms in pilot areas, the committee added.

Alongside this, the committee said the section guidance on licensing and planning systems working together needs to be "reinforced and amended" to reflect the importance of the need for coordination.

It said that councillor training should also clarify the requirement for the licensing and planning systems to work together.

The committee added that the Government must consider the coordination between the licensing and planning systems in its ongoing planning reforms in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to ensure new proposals "do not further exacerbate tensions between the two systems".

Beyond the need to bridge the gap between licensing and planning committees at the local government level, the committee recommended that the 'Agent of Change' principle be adopted in the section 182 Guidance, as previously suggested in its 2017 report.

This should be incorporated to reflect the National Planning Policy Framework as soon as possible, and at the latest, by the end of 2022, the committee urged.

In planning, the agent of change principle provides that parties introducing a new use should be responsible for managing its impact, including where the new use is more sensitive than existing uses around it.

The report noted that: "The 2017 recommendation focused on the adoption of the 'Agent of Change' principle into guidance, however we have heard that the principle as it stands is inadequate and does not sufficiently explain the duties of all parties involved and needs to go further to protect licensed premises and local residents in our changing high streets, and to prevent continuing uncertainty and inconsistency."

It added: "The Government should review the 'Agent of Change' principle, strengthen it, and consider incorporating it into current planning reforms in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to prevent further uncertainty. Any changes to the 'Agent of Change' principle should then be reflected in the section 182 Guidance."

The committee also recommended that:

• the Home Office work with stakeholders to establish a minimum training standard for councillors, including a refresher training standard. "This agreed minimum standard should be set out in the section 182 Guidance, and councillors who are members of a licensing committee should be prohibited from taking part in licensing committee or sub-committee proceedings until this minimum standard has been met."
• the law should be amended to require that an application for a premises licence should be accompanied by a disabled access and facilities statement. "If the Government does not believe the Licensing Act 2003 is the right mechanism to bring about change, it is imperative that the Government reviews the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and in consultation with disabled peoples' charities and organisations ensure accessibility to licensed premises is improved to enable everyone to enjoy licensed premises."
• the Government should provide an update on any replacement to the Local Alcohol Action Areas programme within two years.
• if the Government is to retain the Late Night Levy, the amendments made under the Policing and Crime Act 2017 need to be consulted on as a matter of urgency and brought into force. "[Within] three years of the provisions being implemented, the Government consult local authorities, businesses and interested parties on the impact of the amended Late Night Levy." It also recommended that local authorities continue to consider the use of Business Improvement Districts and other initiatives to support the night-time economy.
• if the Government intends to proceed with removing the GOV.UK licensing application platform, then the Government must establish an alternative before it is withdrawn.
• the Government should proceed with its proposed review of adding records of refused, suspended and revoked personal licences to the National Register of Taxi and Private Hire Vehicles Revocations and Refusals.

Adam Carey

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