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The WODC Licensing Sub-Committee meeting in Witney on October 7th did not grant an annual renewal of the Kings Arms extended licence. They agreed with objectors that the "test" - which lasted six weeks - had not been long enough to make a proper judgement about noise and rowdiness after closing time. So the "test" continues until Feb 28th - when the pub must apply again. The committee imposed another important condition which is that between 11pm and 1am no music or noise from the pub should be audible inside houses nearby - even when those houses have their windows open. So it looks as if noisy late-night discos are out!


There's a very fashionable (government-inspired) theory in vogue at the moment which lies behind the new Licensing Act. This is that if you don't force people to down their last drinks in a binge before 11pm but leave them instead to quietly "wind down", drinkers will fade quietly into the night and not all leave together in a noisy crowd. Pub owners are in strong support of this theory and it had a good airing at the Licensing Committee. People living near pubs are not so sure. Well - we now have five months to see if the theory works out in practice. That seems like a fair test. If there are no complaints from local residents then late-night drinking looks set to become part of our lives in the future.

The scale of concern shown in a list of over fifty signatures of residents of West St and Burford Rd was clearly an important factor in persuading the committee to give the test period a bit longer. This was not a "comprehensive" survey - not every home was canvassed. It was mainly intended to try and show that concerns and potential problems exist a long way from the Kings Arms. In the event every single home approached signed the petition except for just three. At one home the lady of the house said "We don't sign petitions here" (a policy which her husband in a later conversation seemed unaware of). One young mum said "I don't like the noise on the street late at night. It wakes the kids up. But it makes no difference to me whether they get woken at 11pm or 1am. Both are as bad". This seemed fair enough! The third - in a brilliant imitation of Marie (let them eat cake) Antoinette - said "We sleep at the back of our big house so we don't hear the noise and now we have large iron gates which are locked at night we don't get people coming into the front garden and doing the awful things they used to do. So its really not a problem for us".

The Town Council weren't much help. Having agreed in a full council meeting on a "strong objection" at the time of the original application they failed to write to the Licensing Committee. A letter for the October meeting said the application was "not welcomed". This was interpreted by the officers as a neutral stance rather than an objection. The council was then requested to send a representative to the committee meeting to clarify their position. The request was not acknowledged and no representative attended. (Cllr Alcock who did attend was doing so in a personal capacity and was so directly involved that he did not feel able to talk for the Town Council). Its a pity that the Town Council seem unwilling to exert even the little residual influence they may still have.

The people who ensured that local residents views were heard and who are responsible for the present reasonable outcome are our three District Councillors - Eve Coles, Mike Howes and John Hannis. Eve and Mike wrote letters to the Committee and the Chairman. They did some quiet lobbying and were very supportive. John is actually on the Licensing Committee and was not able to declare a personal position. He had not been able to attend the August meeting since his wife had sadly died just before. His detailed local knowledge of Chippy was not therefore available at that first meeting. But in the public part of the October 7th meeting when a District Councillor from Eynsham wondered whether problems on Chippy streets might be due not to people coming out of local pubs but rather to young people arriving on late-night buses from Oxford, John was able to quote from memory the arrival times of the only two buses from Oxford after 9.30pm and demonstrate that this really wasn't the problem. Now that's what anyone would call important and useful local knowledge. We can only guess at the part he played in the "secret" bit of the meeting when the committee actually came to its decision.

Whether we like it or not, we are now all engaged in a rather important social experiment. Its not clear what the committee will decide when they receive late-night applications from other Chippy pubs - which they surely will. Hopefully they will ask everyone to wait and see what happens over the coming five months.

People interested in this issue (and its clear that not everybody is!) really should try and get along to the POLICE FORUM which has been arranged for 14th October at 7.30pm in the Town Hall. This will be a great opportunity to discuss the implications of late-night licences with Nick Deacon and his team as well as representatives from the District Council. Perhaps we can find out there just who is prepared to accept responsibility for order on the streets in the new licensing environment!


Witney's new police chief Insp Darren Carver has urged residents in the town to get their sense of community back in a bid to prevent antisocial behaviour making life a misery for them. Recently more than 100 people signed a petition saying they were fed up with vandalism and antisocial behaviour, often involving people who had been drinking. They have lobbied MP David Cameron and mayor David Harvey in a bid to sort the problems out. Examples include shouting and swearing and urinating in the street. Mr Carver said: "These people who are creating the problems are not coming from outside the town. They are our neighbours, friends or sons and daughters. "We need to get our sense of community back. I know people are very concerned, but there has to be a reality check. There are only so many policemen to go round and we have to prioritise."


7th Feb 2005 A very dodgy experiment begins!

Publicans will today be able to apply for the new 24 hour licences for the first time. Those that are approved will come into effect in November. Police claim it will increase violence, and increase their workload, while the Royal College of Physicians fears it will cost the NHS an extra 1.7bn a year. However, Adrian Leahy, a paramedic and Unison representative at Oxfordshire Ambulance Trust, said staggering the times people left pubs and clubs in the evening could end incidents of violence in the streets. He said: "At the moment, people drink until 11pm and try to get as much as they can before closing. Personally, I think 24-hour drinking will improve things like the amount of violence in the early hours of the morning".

But there'll be a lot more people with alcohol poisoning, because they won't know where to stop or draw the line. His comments were echoed by Dr Mike Ward, medical director for the county's ambulance service and a consultant anaesthetist at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital. "I think it might increase the workload in the department that deals with liver disease because people will drink all day long. It will give them an extra opportunity to keep drinking."

While residents of West Street and Burford Road are battening down the hatches in anticipation of even later night rowdyism, Brian Galbraith - Proprietor of Stones and Town Councillor says there is no chance at all of anyone in Chippy applying for a 24 hour licence. "Nobody could afford to pay the staff". I shall probably apply for an extension until midnight on weekdays and 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. Nobody will notice the difference. Perhaps the odd establishment will want to say open until 2am at the weekend".

One thing that is not yet clear but could be very important is what - if any - conditions will be applied alongside the hours. The extension of the Kings Arms licence until 1am was accompanied by a requirement for a doorman, CCTV, no entry after 10.30am, restrictions on cut price promotions and some strict noise levels for disco music. These conditions have worked extremely well and there has been no aggro in West Street as a result. If the conditions continue for all pubs in the town under the new regime everything should be well. If they don't continue there will be trouble ahead.