On Monday the 27th of June 2011 I went to Cambridge Guildhall to observe a licensing hearing consider an application for The Jam House, 21 Hobson Street, Cambridge.
The Jam House is a chain of jazz venues. The Jam House website includes photos, menus and events lists from their other. The application hit the news due to Cambridgeshire Police’s objection.
The site is within a area councillors have designated a “cumulative impact zone”; so their licensing policy states that unless the applicant can demonstrate why the operation of the premises involved will not add to the cumulative impact already being experienced a licence should not be granted. The policy does though allow departure from the policy “if the individual circumstances of any case merit such a decision in the interest of the promotion of the licensing objectives.”
My view is that having this building back in use, as a jazz Club, will be a positive thing for the city as a whole as well as for the immediate environs of the premises. It looks to me as if what is proposed would be offering a kind of evening out which would currently require a trip into London, I think it would be an asset for the city and its fantastic someone is keen to invest in Cambridge. I see the potential to bring some more life back to Hobson Street, making it less of a dark, lifeless, back alley. I think simply having more people around in that area in the evenings and having the premises open will make it a safer and more pleasant area.
I think Cambridgeshire Police have been a bit strong in their objections and I certainly don’t think its their role to try and stop a jazz club coming to Cambridge. In my view though they were right to make representations. Some of what they’ve said, such as asking for conditions to ensure that the new licence wouldn’t allow for someone to clear away all the tables and run a vertical drinking establishment are very good points and it is clearly very important that councillors take heed of them and include appropriate conditions.
As well as conditions to prevent the premises becoming a pub under the same licence; also given the proximity to lots of college accommodation clearly it is very important that the noise being emitted from the property is kept to a low level. I think there are good suggestions from the council’s experts which could be incorporated as conditions to ensure the new use does not disturb those living nearby.
The papers for the hearing include the representation from the police, and one from the team leader of the council’s Environmental Protection department. I think this is excellent, I have previously campaigned for representations to be published. (Back in 2009 the council rejected an FOI request I made for the police representation in relation to a licensing application, then they showed me only three paragraphs of their submission when I went to the Guildhall to inspect it so this is progress albeit slow).
There is still a long way to go. The report states that fourteen interested parties have made representations and claims:
The representations are attached in their entirety at Appendix D.
The representations are not attached. They were not provided to those attending the hearing in person either.
At the West/Central area committee on the 21st of June I used the Open Forum section of the meeting to question why these representations were not being published. I said that this meant that yet again the key documents behind what was at that point the top story of the day were not available to the public. Cllr Smith, the chair of the licensing committee agreed that the substance of the objections from the interested parties ought be available and promised to follow that up. Cllr Rosenstiel, despite being a Liberal Democrat elected on a platform of openness and transparency, argued for the secrecy to continue, saying the Data Protection Act prevented the council from publishing the representations. Cllr Smith disagreed arguing personal information could be excised.
One of the key things city residents don’t know due to the secrecy surrounding the representations from interested parties is what, if anything, any councillors have written in response to the application. I think lack of openness in relation to this is particularly unjustifiable, we ought be able to see what our councillors are, or are not, doing on our behalf.
Given the location of the premises I would also not be surprised if a usual suspect – one of the fellows of Sidney Sussex College – has submitted an objection, perhaps on behalf of the college. If such an objection was published by the council perhaps other members of the college would be able to get in touch with their councillors and let them know if it reflected their views, or not.
If other representative bodies and associations such as CAMBAC or Love Cambridge have made representations there is value there too in having them published so those the organisations are claiming to represent can check what’s been said really does reflect their views.
Publishing the representations would also allow the public to review them and look for things like new, “pop up” one man band “residents associations” which often appear to come into existence for short periods in response to applications to the council.
Unlike with planning applications only certain people are allowed to object to licensing applications, they’re listed in section 13 of the licensing act 2003. Included are “a person living in the vicinity* of the premises”; omitted though are potential customers of the premises. Section 33 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 added “individual members of licensing authorities” to the list meaning all Cambridge City Councillors are able to make representations and/or speak at the licensing hearing, this may go some way to balancing thing up and bringing more democracy to proceedings; assuming we have councillors who are prepared fulfil their roles.
* Cambridge City Council licensing reports usually carry the slightly odd explanatory sentence: “The ordinary meaning of vicinity is. ‘near’.”
The reason the council gives for not widely publicising licensing applications is because it doesn’t think those beyond those able to object need to know. It currently refuses to publicise even those applications in which the wider public will clearly taken an interest on the grounds it is concerned about treating all applications equally. This is something I raised in my response to the council’s recent consultation consultation.
Details of decisions made by licensing subcommittees are also distributed on a “need to know” basis. The general public and the press are not among those considered to need to know by councillors.
27th June Hearing
Labour Cllr Benstead along with Liberal Democrats Pippas and Saunders made up the sub-committee due to hear the application. A police officer in uniform, other police representatives and ward councillors Rosenstiel and Reiner were present around the committee table. There were two members of the public in the public seating and someone from Cambridge First on the press desk.
Cllr Pippas arrived about 15 minutes late so the start of proceedings was delayed waiting for him.
Cllr Saunders briefed his wingmen that they were about to act “like magistrates” in a judicial capacity. He then kicked off the meeting with an election of the chair. Cllrs Benstead and Pippas indicated they were happy with Cllr Saunders staying in the chairman’s seat. Declarations of interest were called for, none were forthcoming. (While perhaps not a matter which would require declaring – I note that the council does run what might be considered potentially competing venues in the Junction and the Corn Exchange).
Cllr Saunders then invited a statement from the council’s licensing manager Christine Allison. The officer told the committee she had a letter, which contained personal confidential information, so she was not prepared to share it with all those present, calling for an adjournment of the proceedings on the grounds the applicant’s solicitors had been affected by two bereavements, one of which being the death of the head of the firm of solicitors.
(It has been reported elsewhere that Jeremy Allen, founder of licensing law firm, Poppleston Allen, died last week. Poppleston Allen were representing the applicants, We Are Dancing Ltd, who were seeking permission for the Jazz Club. )
The letter was handed to the councillors on the committee; they deliberated among themselves, and decided to adjourn until 10am on the 25th of July. The reasons given were that it would in their view be in the public interest, and in the interest of a fair hearing, to have the applicant’s representatives present.
The Poppleston Allen website says they have 12 solicitors and a total of 37 members of staff.
After the meeting was suspended I asked Cllr Rosenstiel if he had submitted a representation/objection. He said he had not.
Outside a few minutes later Cllr Rosenstiel told me that the council had written to objectors on the Friday before the meeting and that might be why there were not more of them present in person. Cllr Rosenstiel asked me if I’d been told of the possibility of an adjournment (I hadn’t) and complained about the fact he’d not been sent the email the council sent out on the Friday. Cllr Rosenstiel said the police were aware the hearing would be adjourned but had decided to turn up anyway.
It would be interesting to know what the email sent out by the council on the Friday said, and if the sub-committee had actually made a decision to adjourn the week before and were just acting out the appearance of due-process when they met on the Monday morning. I do think its important that adjournment decisions are made in public