Support for Eastbourne licensing rule changes aiming to attract more businesses to town centre

Eastbourne Borough Council could be set to remove a longstanding licensing policy, in a move councillors hope could ‘attract new businesses to the town centre’.

On Monday (January 17), Eastbourne Borough Council’s licensing committee discussed proposals surrounding the town’s Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) policy.

The special policy places additional restrictions on new licenced businesses (such as pubs, clubs and late night takeaways) opening within the town centre, with the intention of preventing the area from becoming oversaturated.

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However, concerns have long been raised that the policy is now out-of-date and it is instead putting off new businesses from coming to the town.

Eastbourne town centre's Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) policy when it comes to licensing applications could soon be removed

In light of this, the council held a consultation last year on whether to remove the CIA policy and what, if anything, should replace it. The most popular option with consultees was to remove the policy, but to replace it with a set of ‘licensing principles’ instead.

These principles would lay out what the council would or would not normally approve of when considering licensing applications. They included opening hours of no later than 2am, a restriction on outdoor seating after 11pm and an expectation that all premises would have CCTV. 

While this was the most popular option from the consultation, councillors were uncomfortable with adopting these principles, as it was felt they could still put off new businesses from relocating to the town.

At the same time, it was also felt that the new principles would not add much benefit, as they could not be applied in all cases anyway, with every application being considered on its own merits. 

Jim Murray (Lib Dem, Hampden Park) said: “The reason why we are looking to remove the cumulative impact zone is because we are trying to encourage more businesses. It is seen as obstructive and people see it is easier to go somewhere else.  

“We are looking to do that to facilitate businesses coming to the town and I think [to do that] we need to remove the principles as well.”

This was a view shared by Shoes Simes, chairwoman of the Eastbourne Business Improvement District. She said: “Every single case that comes forward you look at, the police look at, residents look at. Why do we need different licensing principles to the rest of the country?

“Why are you trying to find something that fits all, when you look individually at every case. I would really be in favour of just scrapping the [cumulative impact policy] and not putting in the licensing principles.”

In light of these views, the committee favoured an option of removing the CIA policy without adopting new principles as a replacement. 

While the majority of the committee felt the same way, a different viewpoint was put forward by Meads councillor Barry Taylor (Con), who felt it was wrong to remove the CIA policy at the moment as the industry was feeling the effects of Covid. 

As a result, he said removing the CIA policy would be premature at this time. Other committee members disagreed, however. 

The councillors’ preferred approach had also been an option in the consultation, but had not gained much support. 

In all 47 people responded to the consultation: 22 were in favour of removing the CIA and adopting the new principles; 16 were in favour of keeping the CIA in place; while only four supported the approach favoured by councillors.

The other three respondents either supported changing the area the CIA policy covered or disagreed with all of the options on offer.

Even so, the committee ultimately voted unanimously to back removing the CIA policy without adopting the new principles.

 Peter Diplock (Lib Dem, Old Town) said: “I really do agree that we need to focus on business and restoring the economy of our town, but I think it is just worth highlighting the needs of the residents. 

“There are a lot of concerned residents who, rightly or wrongly, think the cumulative impact zone is a good thing. Who rightly or wrongly think that if we get rid of it, the police won’t have an input into any licensing application that comes forward, when of course they do. 

“I am really happy to support [this approach] but I just want to reassure residents that even if we get rid of the zone and not replace it with the principles that doesn’t mean it is a free-for-all. There are still enormous safeguards and this committee takes those very, very seriously.”

After further discussion, the committee agreed it would recommend the council remove the policy without adopting new licensing principles. A final decision will be made through a full council vote in the near future.