Club Chemistry Councillor loses appeal against own Council

April 2016

In a highly unusual scenario, a Canterbury City Councillor has lost her appeal against a decision of Canterbury's licensing sub-committee refusing an extension of hours for her family-owned nightclub. 

 

Louise Jones is the managing partner of Club Chemistry, the largest nightclub in Canterbury with a capacity of just over 1,300. She is also a recently-elected City Councillor. She had applied to vary the licence of Club Chemistry to extend its opening hours from 4.30am to 6am at weekends (among other extensions). The club claimed that the extended hours would aid the gradual dispersal of its customers and was not motivated by commercial interests. By way of a track-record the club had operated under Temporary Event Notices to the extended hours on over 60 occasions without serious incident. The club had reached agreement with all the responsible authorities prior to the sub-committee hearing with only residents continuing to object.

 

Procedurally, the sub-committee hearing had to deal with the disclosed and obvious pecuniary interest of Ms Jones. Since she had not applied for a dispensation, under Canterbury's constitution she was barred from speaking at, or indeed attending, the sub-committee hearing although she was legally represented throughout by experienced licensing lawyers. The Council refused her application to extend the club’s hours.

 

On appeal Ms Jones was able to give evidence together with expert witnesses who had carried out observations at the club and concluded that the extension would not negatively impact on the licensing objectives. In rebuttal, Canterbury City Council relied on the real-life experience of a number of residents living nearby who could provide evidence that went beyond the snapshots available to the club's experts.

 

In a careful and detailed written judgment delivered on 14 April 2016, District Judge Barron found in favour of the Council and dismissed Club Chemistry's appeal. The Judge was satisfied that the club was run to the highest standards but preferred the evidence of residents to the conclusions of the club's experts as to its impact on the local area. He rejected the appellant's suggestion that the variation was not motivated by commercial interests. The District Judge found that the club's track-record under the TENS (necessarily limited to a capacity of 499 persons) was not indicative of the position if 1,300 people could remain at the club until a later hour.

 

The judgment, which can be found on the Institute of Licensing's website, is a fine example of the balancing exercise inherent in every licensing decision and the judicial weighing up of the competing, honest, but sometimes conflicting testimony of witnesses called by opposing parties at appeals. 

 

Club Chemistry was ordered to pay Canterbury City Council's costs of £17,500.

 

Gary Grant of Francis Taylor Building appeared for Canterbury City Council instructed by Peter Kee of the Council’s Legal Department and Anton Walden, Licensing Officer.

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