Having the best legal advice when it comes to licensing issues can make all the difference to the success of a restaurant venture. As part of the restaurant network Dean Gambles & Co endorses a range of fellow hospitality professionals with whom we have had consistent dealings over many years and who we believe meet the standards of excellence we set for ourselves.
Here we talk to Mark Browning, director of BA Law, and one of Britain’s top specialists in licensing and planning issues for the food and beverage sector. We ask Mark for the lowdown on some of the most common legal issues facing restaurants in Central London.
Making the right kind of impact
The words “cumulative impact” may sound mundane but any operator thinking of opening a restaurant in certain parts of London would do well to pay them close attention. After all, without the right legal advice a project falling foul of this concept could potentially collapse before it is even underway.
In the opinion of licencing expert Mark Browning, this is one of the most pressing legal issues many restaurateurs are likely to encounter in Central London – and increasingly beyond. Cumulative impact is essentially where a borough declares that an area is saturated, that it now has its full complement of licenses and becomes unwilling to grant any more.
In the worst-case scenario, a restaurant (or other hospitality venture) trying to open in a cumulative impact zone can be denied a licence on the grounds that police or health services are simply unable to deal with more licensed premises in that area.
It was a policy that first began to make an appearance in inner-London boroughs like Westminster, Camden and Islington as councils sought to limit the number of restaurants, bars and clubs that opened in given areas. But gradually authorities in other London boroughs are starting to adopt cumulative impact policies.
The good news is that with the right legal assistance it can be possible to satisfy local authorities that an operation is not adding to cumulative impact. This is where Mark and BA Law come in.
A commercial background
Restaurant operators can sometimes feel like they’re dealing with a member of another species when they’re talking to lawyers. Mark, however, is a barrister by background but he’s also been the owner of a restaurant, bar and nightclub. That gives him a better understanding of operators’ perspective than most members of his profession.
This commercial know-how is backed up by a client list that includes some of the UK hospitality sector’s most impressive names: the Savoy, Dorchester, Claridges, Itsu, Novikov, Franco Manca, The Real Greek, Jason Atherton and many more.
“We’re not by any means restricted to only helping the big boys — we also do a lot of work for private individuals,” says Mark.
Over 15 years of practice Mark has built up close relationships with London’s licensing authorities and that goes to the heart of how he operates.
“There are ways and means to satisfy the licensing authorities,” says Mark.
“We draw up detailed cumulative impact assessments to satisfy the council that particular types of operation will not contribute to the cumulative impact. And we have a very successful track record of doing that.”
One of the keys to that is trust. “We’ve had all sorts of supposedly insoluble applications which we’ve resolved simply by knowing people in the industry for a long time and having good relations with them.”
Licensing officers know that Mark and members of his firm do not massage applications to squirm through legal loopholes. Instead it is a case of providing “logical, sensible and responsible explanations as to why the cumulative impact will not be affected by this new operation”.
This often means sitting down with operators and discussing exactly what it is they want to achieve and understanding their operation completely.
The law of unintended consequences
Another issue that has become much higher profile since the pandemic is so-called pavement licenses. Before the pandemic local authorities would charge restaurants fees which could rise to well above £2000 a year.
“If you wanted tables and chairs outside a restaurant, and the highway belonged to Westminster, it could become very expensive,” says Mark.
In the latter stages of the pandemic the government decided it wanted to encourage outside tables to reduce risks of Covid-19 transmission and brought in the Business and Planning Act. While this act appeared to favour operators by making licenses for outside furniture cost a mere £100, it also had unintended consequences by depriving councils of their income.
“Previously they were raking in a fortune so they were not happy about it and consequently there’s been a lot of tightening up,” Mark comments.
Licenses are now often denied on the grounds that street furniture might not comply, there is too much traffic or a TfL route is affected.
“We’ve had to become experts in looking at all the different aspects of the payment licence regime and entering into discussions with highways and council advisors,” Mark adds.
“But” he stresses. “We get a lot of refusals overturned. And pavement licences — particularly when the sun comes out — are like an advertising board outside your restaurant.”
BA Law specialises in licensing issues and planning issues affecting the hospitality industry. If you’re interested in further legal information please contact Mark @email@example.com or www.balaw.co.uk.
For any other restaurant-property related queries please contact Dean Gambles on +44 20 7078 7464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.