James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, says plans included in the government’s Alcohol Strategy to give local authorities greater power to limit the density of licensed premises on their patch were a threat to expansion plans for independents.
The measure – which would allow councils to consider public health issues in reaching their decisions – goes some way to re-establishing the so-called Need Rule, abolished by the Blair government and which required applicants for new licences to demonstrate a need for the outlet in a particular neighbourhood.
Lowman pledged to fight the new proposals as the top political priority for the ACS in 2013.
He said: “The government’s proposals to restrict the number of alcohol licences threaten our industry in two ways. First, by creating damaging barriers that will prevent convenience retailers from starting, or expanding, their business; and second, through allowing dangerous prejudices based on ill-informed opinions about [convenience stores], and the way we do business, to take hold in town halls up and down the country.
“Faced with this challenge ACS will be challenging these ill-informed opinions and resisting bad policy initiatives at the national level.”
He said shops needed to show a responsible approach to alcohol retailing to see off the threat of greater restrictions. “We need retailers to drive ever-higher standards in responsible retailing policy and training and to reach out to the councillors, police officers and neighbours that have ever more say in how you run your business,” he said.
“It is much harder for them to be prejudiced against you if they have seen your efforts first-hand.”
In a personal introduction to the government’s Alcohol Strategy, David Cameron said it would commit to “more powers for local areas to restrict opening and closing times, control the density of licensed premises and charge a late-night levy to support policing”.
The aim is to make it easier for local authorities to impose cumulative impact policies on perceived problem areas to impose restrictions on existing traders and make it harder for new ones to start up.
CIPs were introduced by the 2003 Licensing Act and the new Alcohol Strategy proposals revised guidance to “make clear that CIPs apply to both the on-trade and the off-trade and that licensing authorities can reflect the needs of their local area by using measures such as fixed closing times, staggered closing times and zoning where they consider them to be appropriate”.
It also suggests reducing the burden of evidence placed on licensing authorities to introduce CIPs, effectively making it easier for councils to control the density of licensed premises.
Research by law firm Poppleston Allen last year showed CIPs were already having an impact on the off-trade. There were 158 designated cumulative impact areas established as part of such policies in England and Wales, more than a quarter of them in London.