Licensing and Appeals Committee Minutes

Date:
Thursday, 25th October, 2012
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Committee Room 1, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor D.J. Barnard (Chairman), Councillor Jean Green, Councillor Joan Kirby, Councillor Gerald Morris, Councillor Mike Rice and Councillor M.E. Weeks.
In attendance:
Head of Housing & Public Protection, Licensing & Enforcement Manager, Senior Licensing & Enforcement Officer, Solicitor - Litigation & General and Committee & Member Services Manager.
Also Present:
Councillor Bernard Lovewell (Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Housing and Environmental Health); and 4 members of the public.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
1 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors P.C.W. Burt, Dave Chambers, Lisa Courts, Gary Grindal, Lorna Kercher, Alan Millard and M.R.M. Muir.
2 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 21 November 2011 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and signed by the Chairman.
3 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
There was no notification of other business.
4 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Chairman reminded Members that any declarations of interest in respect of any business set out in the agenda, should be declared as either a Disclosable Pecuniary interest, Other Pecuniary interest or Non-Pecuniary interest, and were required to notify the Chairman of the nature of any interest declared at the commencement of the relevant item on the agenda. Members declaring a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest must withdraw from the meeting for the duration of the item. Members declaring either an Other Pecuniary interest, or a Non-Pecuniary interest which required they leave the room under Paragraph 16.3 of the Code of Conduct, could speak on the item, but must leave the room before the debate and vote.
5 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Cathy Grant (on behalf of Butlers of Royston and Meltax, Royston) had registered to speak in respect of Item 7 - Viability Assessment of providing an additional Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle Testing Centre in the Royston area. The Chairman announced that he would be inviting her to speak immediately prior to the Committee’s consideration of the item (see Minute 7 below).
6 ANIMAL LICENSING POLICY 2013-2018
The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer presented the report of the Head of Housing and Public Protection in respect of a proposed Animal Licensing Policy 2013-2018. The following appendices were submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Copies of all consultation responses; and
Appendix B - Proposed Animal Licensing Policy.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the Council had adopted its first formal Animal Licensing Policy (which took effect from 1 April 2010) based predominately on available national standards. This policy introduced a new set of licensing requirements for all new premises licensed for the first time. Existing licensed premises were allowed until 1 January 2013 to upgrade to the new requirements.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer reminded Members that, following representations from the owners of existing catteries and kennels, the Licensing and Appeals Committee had further exempted the existing animal boarding establishments from the new pen/kennel size requirements for the lifetime of the current business. Upon the sale of an existing business, the new owners would have a period of five years to upgrade the pen/kennel sizes to the new size requirements.. The current Policy required existing cattery and kennel licence holders to upgrade their premises to meet all new requirements, save for the specific pen/kennel size exemption, from 1 January 2013. A public consultation had been undertaken with regard to a new Animal Licensing Policy to take effect from 1 January 2013.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer further reminded Members that, during the Licensing and Appeals Committee meeting which considered the formation of the existing Policy, the Licensing Team offered to host an Animal Licensing Forum to facilitate discussions between the trade and officers to assess the practicalities of the new Policy requirements. The purpose of the Forum was to provide the officers with feedback on the impact of the new Policy requirements and offer suggestions for officers to consider. Although the Forum was not as widely supported as originally hoped, consisting of predominately cattery owners, a number of meetings were held to discuss the development of cattery licence conditions. The trade provided a revised list of cattery conditions for the consideration of officers which were discussed at the meetings. Officers considered the proposals and provided feedback as to which proposals were acceptable for incorporation into the Policy, which were not acceptable, and which needed further discussion.

In respect of consultation of the proposed revised Policy, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer reported that, although a number of representations had been received from Animal Boarding Establishments, no such representations had been received from the Pet Shop trade.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer confirmed that the proposed Policy had been revised to incorporate new requirements for Dog Day Creches and Home Boarding. The proposed Policy also retained the current pet shop conditions contained within the existing Policy. Officers would, however, use the Model Conditions for Pet Vending Licensing 2011 issued by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health as supplementary guidance to the interpretation and implementation of the Council’s pet shop conditions.

In relation to the combined consultation response received from the cattery owners, and copied directly to all Members of the Committee, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that this contained a variety of issues for consideration. There remained a concern amongst the cattery owners in respect of the need to upgrade to the new policy requirements and the potential impact on their existing businesses. The proposed Policy placed no new requirements on the cattery owners over and above those contained within the existing Policy, indeed Officers had incorporated condition amendments proposed by the trade themselves.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that specific mention was made of the removal of the words “All new units built or newly licensed after 1st April 2010…” in conditions such as 3.1.2 of Appendix A2 of the proposed Policy. This was not a new requirement, it was simply a replication of the requirements in the existing Policy which stated:

3.3.3 In order to ensure consistent requirements across the District and trading fairness, all existing animal boarding establishment licence holders as at 1st April 2010 will have until 1st January 2013 to upgrade their facilities so that they meet the Council’s new requirements.

3.3.4 As of 1st January 2013, any animal boarding establishment that does not meet the Council’s licensing conditions as detailed in Appendix A of this Policy will not be granted a licence unless paragraph 3.3.5 applies.

[Note: Paragraph 3.3.5 referred to the pen/kennel size exemption.]

With the proposed Policy scheduled to take effect from 1 January 2013, the exemption for existing businesses between the period 1 April 2010 and 1 January 2013 would no longer apply, and so all references to the exemption (ie. “All new units built or newly licensed after 1st April 2010…”) had been removed to reflect those paragraphs.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer explained that the majority of the remaining Policy-related issues related to the Trade’s concern that officers would not retain their current flexible interpretation of the required standards that would result in lost businesses or significant cost implications to remain in business. He stated that no business had been refused a licence or made to cease trading due to non-compliance with the policy requirements. He had given a verbal assurance at the previous Licensing and Appeals Committee meeting in respect of safeguarding existing businesses and had repeated this assurance in his e-mail to the owner of Waterdell Cattery (copied directly to all Members of the Committee as part of the consultation response) which stated:

“As I have stated many times in the past, and in this response, it has never nor will never be the Council’s intention to force existing licence holders out of business; it is important, however, to promote consistency across the trade in terms of conditions with regard to any nationally approved standards. Existing boarding establishments already have a pen size exemption contained within the Policy and there is scope to allow other minor exemptions, for example damp proof membrane and 1:80 falls, where the establishment complies with all other aspects of the requirements. When building or improvement works are undertaken, however, existing owners will be expected to move towards full compliance with the conditions.

It is further accepted that a degree of choice for cattery users is beneficial, however, the basic standards need to be fair and consistent. The Council would not seek to preclude existing businesses that have been licensed for many years and have offered a good service over something as minor as a lack of damp proof membrane, however, without a standard set of conditions the move towards parity and consistency has no foundation.”

In summary, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer considered the proposed revised Policy to be robust and fit for purpose, incorporating as it did many of the proposed conditions and requirements promoted by the Animal Boarding Establishment owners.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer responded to a number of questions asked by Members. The Committee was supportive of the proposed revised Policy.

RESOLVED: That the proposed Animal Licensing Policy 2013-2018, as attached at Appendix B to the report, be supported.

RECOMMENDED TO CABINET: That the proposed Animal Licensing Policy 2013-2018, as attached at Appendix B to the report, be adopted

REASON FOR DECISION: To establish a Policy in relation to animal licensing, with appropriate local licence conditions, that will ensure the promotion of the ‘five freedoms’ introduced in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
7 VIABILITY ASSESSMENT OF PROVIDING AN ADDITIONAL HACKNEY CARRIAGE AND PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE TESTING CENTRE IN THE ROYSTON AREA
Prior to the consideration of this item, Cathy Grant (on behalf of Butlers of Royston and Meltax Limited, Royston) addressed the Committee on the matter.

Cathy asked the Committee to approve an additional MOT Station in the Royston area, due to the volume of taxis, green issues, time issues and cost issues. She explained that vehicles under five years old required only one visit per year to the MOT Station, whilst vehicles older than that required six-monthly inspections. She had calculated that for Royston taxis this would mean 69 visits to the Letchworth MOT Centre per year, resulting in a total mileage there and back of 1,490 miles, at an annual cost (at £1.90 per mile) of £2,831. It also equated to over 46 hours per year in travel time to and from the Letchworth MOT Station.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer presented the report of the Head of Housing and Public Protection in respect of a viability assessment of providing an additional Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle Testing Centre in the Royston Area. The following appendix was submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Engineer’s Report required by the Council as part of the testing process for all licensed vehicles.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer reminded Members that, at the Licensing and Appeals Committee meeting held on 23 November 2010, during the consideration of the adoption of a new Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy, representatives of the trade raised the question of why the Council had only authorised one garage, that being North Hertfordshire Homes in Letchworth Garden City, to carry out MOT and Engineer Report testing on hackney carriage and private hire vehicles.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that it was felt by representatives of the trade from the Royston area that, in light of the fact that one of the underlying principles of the proposed Policy was to reduce the carbon footprint of vehicles and support the Council’s strategic objective of ‘green issues’, a second authorised testing facility in the Royston area would further promote that objective. Following the representations made by the businesses in Royston at the Licensing and Appeals Committee meeting on 23 November 2010, the Committee resolved:

“That officers be requested to investigate the possible addition of an authorised MOT station in the Royston Area, in addition to the current authorised MOT station in Letchworth Garden City”.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that the Licensing Project Officer had investigated the request thoroughly and had prepared a balanced report. The starting point had been a full evaluation of the current Vehicle Testing Facility at North Hertfordshire Homes in Letchworth Garden City. He had concluded that this facility provided a good service, in terms of price, consistency and independence, and was fit for purpose.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the Vehicle Testing Inspection comprised a regular MOT check, followed by an Engineer’s report on the vehicle. Elements of this second part of the test were subjective, which raised an issue of consistency should an additional facility be used.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer drew attention to the advantages and disadvantages of an additional testing facility, as set out in the report. Details of the costs charged by the North Herts Homes compared to neighbouring Authorities were also outlined in the report. This showed that the North Herts Homes facility represented good value for money. The implications of terminating the existing Service Level Agreement with North Herts Homes and the potential complications of advertising a procurement exercise for an additional testing facility were contained in the report.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer concluded by stating that, given the subjective nature of the Engineer’s Report, it was felt that remaining with the one proven facility would be the most effective method of maintaining the current high consistency of service which assisted in promoting two of the Council’s hackney carriage and private hire licensing objectives of:

‘The protection of the health and safety of the public’; and

‘To provide and maintain a professional and respected hackney carriage and private hire trade, by continued monitoring and improvement of their required standards of service’.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer added that the current charges made by North Hertfordshire Homes in connection with licensed vehicle testing were competitive and did not place an undue burden on the trade. The costs likely to be incurred by the Council in providing and monitoring an additional testing facility may be prohibitive. As legislation provided for the Council to recover its costs in administering this licensing function through licence fees, the increase in licence fee would potentially exceed the cost of travelling from Royston to Letchworth for testing. In addition, as the Council operated as one licensing area for the purpose of hackney carriage and private hire licensing, only one set of licence fees may be set, therefore, all applicants for a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence would be faced with an increase in licence fee even though they were unlikely to use the additional testing facility.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer commented that it was possible that there would be a net reduction in CO2 emissions from licensed vehicles in connection with their periodic assessment should an additional testing facility be commissioned in Royston, however, this ought to be assessed having regard to total annual emissions from the hackney carriage and private hire fleet. If licensed vehicles were properly maintained they would need only make one return trip to the North Hertfordshire Homes testing site in Letchworth until they reached five years of age from date of first registration; after that five years, six-monthly testing was required necessitating two return trips to Letchworth each year. Given that the average total hackney carriage use was typically in the region of 25,000 miles per year, the CO2 reductions attributable to the development of an additional testing facility in Royston would be approximately 0.2% of total emissions for a vehicle tested six-monthly (approximately 0.1% of total emissions for a vehicle tested annually). This theoretical reduction was, therefore, not significant having regard to the costs as outlined above.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that, likewise, there may be a marginal increase in hackney carriage and private hire utilisation rates regarding the Royston fleet if an additional testing facility was established in that town. A more local testing facility would reduce the opportunity cost associated with Royston based vehicles making the return trip to Letchworth for their annual/six-monthly test, however, given the time associated with this exercise, was not likely to exceed three hours per test, the prospective efficiency increases were again likely to be minimal when viewed in the context of annual hackney carriage and private hire vehicle operational use. Additionally, the current fares set by North Hertfordshire District Council in respect of licensed vehicles were relatively generous. North Hertfordshire was currently joint 28th in the table of 363 fare setting Council’s nationally (England, Scotland and Wales), with a tariff that is 15% above the national average. This would suggest, all things being equal, that the marginally higher costs for the Royston hackney carriage and private hire vehicle trade in respect of vehicle testing at Letchworth may be off-set by the Council’s approach to maximum permitted fares.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer referred to a consultation document being prepared by the Law Commission on behalf of the Government which would be a thorough review of the long-standing legislation relating to hackney carriages and private hire vehicles. One of the possible changes would be to remove the requirement for vehicles to be tested only in their own local authority area.

The Committee debated the matter at length. Members acknowledged the concerns of the Royston Taxi trade, but the Committee concluded that the cost benefit of operating the existing Test Centre in Letchworth Garden City marginally outweighed the need for a second Centre in the Royston area. However, it was acknowledged that, should new legislation be passed which allowed vehicles to be tested across Local Authority boundaries, then this element of the policy would need to be re-considered by the Committee at that time.

RESOLVED: That officers be requested to continue with the one existing testing facility provided by North Hertfordshire Homes at Blackhorse Road, Letchworth Garden City.

REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure the most effective method of maintaining the current high consistency of service by assisting in the promotion of the Council’s Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Objectives.
8 GAMBLING ACT 2005: STATEMENT OF LICENSING PRINCIPLES 2013-2016
[During the debate on this item, Councillor Jean Green declared a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in the matter, in view of her role with Royston Royal British Legion Club, which had a gaming machine licence. She withdrew from the meeting before the vote upon the item.]

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer presented the report of the Head of Housing and Public Protection in respect of a Gambling Act 2005 - proposed Statement of Licensing Principles 2013-2106. The following appendix was submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Gambling Act 2005: Proposed Statement of Licensing Principles.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the current Statement of Licensing Principles in respect of the Gambling Act 2005 had been published on 3 January 2010. The Council had undertaken a consultation to review the existing Statement, with a view to publishing a new Statement of Principles by 3 January 2013.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that it was felt that, in general terms, the Statement of Principles appeared to be working well, and therefore no significant changes were proposed in respect of content. There had been no significant changes in the legislation and Statutory Guidance that would impact on the existing Statement of Principles since it was last published in January 2010.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer commented that the Council had recently received and determined applications for the grant of a new betting premises licence, the variation of an existing adult gaming centre premises licence, and the grant of a new unlicensed family entertainment centre gaming machine permit. In determining those applications, the existing Statement of Principles had proved ‘fit for purpose’.

The Committee noted that only one response was received in respect of the consultation exercise undertaken by the Council. The response was from an existing private members’ club that currently held a club gaming permit, who stated that they were content with the existing arrangements.

In respect to a Member’s question, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer confirmed that on-line gambling was regulated nationally by the Gambling Commission.

RESOLVED: That the proposed Statement of Licensing Principles in respect of the Gambling Act 2005, as attached at Appendix A to the report, be supported.

RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL: That the proposed Statement of Licensing Principles in respect of the Gambling Act 2005, as attached at Appendix A to the report, be adopted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To comply with the requirement to publish a Statement of Licensing Principles every three years, in accordance with Section 349 of the Gambling Act 2005.
9 LICENSING SERVICE ANNUAL REPORT
The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer presented the report of the Head of Housing and Public Protection in respect of the Licensing Service Annual Report. The following appendix was submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Licensing Service Statistics.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the Street Trading, Street Collections and House to House Collections Policies supported by the Committee in November 2011 and subsequently approved by Cabinet in December 2011 were all now in effect.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer commented that the Street Collections and House to House Collections Policies had been particularly successful and the Licensing Service had been able to refuse applications where concerns existed as to the net amount of money actually being received by the charity. Prior to the adoption of the policies, refusals were more difficult to implement without the safeguard of a stated policy position to defend the decision.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that the Street Trading Policy had been equally successful with mobile traders across the District now being regulated through the issuing of consents where appropriate. The introduction of new Town Centre Consents as part of the Policy had been well received by Town Centre Managers and applications had been received in respect of Hitchin and Garden Square in Letchworth Garden City.

In respect of future policy considerations, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer explained that the only matter currently identified for review in 2013 was the Council’s Policy in respect of the Licensing Act 2003. It was anticipated that the new policy would need to take effect from April 2013 to incorporate significant statutory changes to the Licensing Act 2003 that had either taken effect already or were due to take effect from April 2013. A summary of the changes to the Licensing Act 2003 would be identified during the forthcoming training for Members planned for 8 November 2012. It was important that all Licensing and Appeals Committee Members attended this training session to ensure that they were fully aware of the new legislation and its impact on Licensing Sub-Committee decision making.

In respect of licensing fees, the Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer advised that the process of setting of such fees was, in most cases, prescribed by legislation. Depending on the legislation, the fee could either cover administrative costs only or a combination of administrative and enforcement costs. A common factor throughout the legislation, however, was that licensing fees should only seek to recover the legitimate costs associated with the specific licensing activity.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer stated that, in the majority of cases, the setting of licensing fees was a local function having regard to certain parameters. The one significant exception, however, was the centrally set fees in relation to the Licensing Act 2003. Recent changes to the Licensing Act 2003 would allow local authorities to locally set the Licensing Act fees within prescribed parameters and subject to a centrally set maximum (this was a reflection of the current fee setting process for the Gambling Act 2005).

The Committee noted that, in preparation for setting the Licensing Act fees, the Licensing Service had commenced a detailed time-recording exercise to enable the new legislative requirements (as yet unpublished) to be achieved. The Licensing Service had also taken this opportunity to extend the time-recording exercise to all licensing functions to enable a full audit of the Council’s licensing fees.

The Committee further noted that the responsibility for setting fees could either be an Executive function or a Council function depending on the legislation. The Portfolio Holder for Housing and Environmental Health had indicated that, prior to the setting of fees for the financial year 2013/14, he would be seeking the views of the Licensing and Appeals Committee. The Portfolio Holder for Housing and Environmental Health had also indicated that he would be seeking the views of the Licensing and Appeals Committee in respect of the enforcement activities carried out by the Licensing Service, particularly where the legislation did not allow enforcement costs to be recovered through licensing fees.

The Senior Licensing and Enforcement Officer explained that the Licensing Service had been the subject of a Value for Money (VFM) report in 2012 which had now been approved by Challenge Board. The VFM report identified ways in which the service could operate more efficiently through increased use of the Council’s Management Support Unit (MSU) and shared services, whilst highlighting the need to establish a sustainable staffing structure to meet the future challenges. As part of the VFM report, statistics were compiled in relation to the Licensing Service. A snapshot of these statistics was set out at Appendix A to the report.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the contents of the report be noted; and

(2) That the officers of the Licensing and Enforcement Team be thanked for their efforts and hard work over the past year.

REASON FOR DECISION: To update Members on the work of the Licensing Service and highlight forthcoming issues that will require consideration by the Committee.
Published on Tuesday, 22nd January, 2013
9.10pm