Some residents and councillors have called on borough council officers to take enforcement action soon, rather than write more reports, to stamp-down on anti-social behaviour, drunkenness, damage and crime associated with Whalley’s night time scene.
Problems in Whalley have been reported at various borough council meetings and were again referred to at the latest meeting of the Licensing Committee. An updated report suggested 2021 rates of anti-social incidents in Whalley were twice the Ribble Valley average and also higher than the Lancashire county average.
Complaints have included noise, disorder, fights, damage to cars and homes, smashed glass, litter, vomit and human waste on pavements and gardens, and trespass into gardens.
An updated 35-page report for Ribble Valley councillors on the licensing committee stated that the rate of anti-social behaviour incidents per 1,000 people was 60 in Whalley and Painter Wood over the 12 months to autumn 2021. That compared with the rate of 28 incidents per 1,000 people for the whole Ribble Valley. The Whalley ratio was higher than Lancashire, at 55, and east Lancashire, at 58. But Blackpool had the highest rate.
Councillors on the committee were being asked to approve the renewal of the reporting project, officially called a "Cummulative Impact Assessment", which has been collecting evidence about problems in Whalley which can, in turn, restrict the number of licences granted for pubs, clubs and restaurants in the future. The exercise was set to be renewed to run for a third period over the next few years.
But the perceived reliance on more reports, rather than targeted enforcement action, concerned some residents and councillors. The impact reports include maps, lists, numbers, percentages, pie charts, bar charts, written text passages and public survey question-and-answer sections.
Members of the Whalley Queen’s Street and Neighbourhood Residents’ Group who spoke at a licensing committee meeting in the autumn spoke again at the committee’s latest meeting on February 1st. They asked the council not to identify them because of alleged fears over retribution.
One said: “Our wish is that there will be no need for a third cumulative impact assessment running to 2025 because you will have used the tools at your disposal.”
Another speaker from the residents group said: “We thank the borough council for taking the time to complete the latest assessment. As residents who have to live with these problems, we welcome the work. We also support the good licensees in Whalley.
“Unfortunately, not all licensed premises are operating in the way that Whalley desires. We understand that the assessment cannot work retrospectively (by removing licenses which have previously been granted). So we are making a heart-felt appeal to utilise the provisions that the law already allows to protect Whalley from less-attractive consequences of the night-time economy. ”
The speaker quoted various laws which, she said, already gave councils the powers to act against "rogue" licensees. Pubs and clubs did not have ‘carte-blanche’ total freedom and Ribble Valley Borough Council was not helpless to do anything.
She said: “Existing laws, implicitly and explicitly, provide councils with ‘pathways’ to regulate venues and respond to premises which fall short. Existing laws give councils ample powers, for those that seek. Many local authorities have established ‘responsible authority’ systems. These give a clear route to holding reviews for problematic premises. We have been told that nothing can be done about persistent problems in Whalley which come with the night time economy. But it can. It really can."
Conservative Coun Ged Mirfin represents Whalley and Painter Wood, but is not a member of the licensing committee. Allowed to speak, he strongly urged the borough to set up a ‘responsible authority’ system because the impact assessment report would not necessarily address some of the problems highlighted by residents. He was also minded to bring a motion to the full council, recommending that approach.
He added: “Research done into passive licensing authorities suggests they do not take action. Instead, they are submissive, they watch and listen to people rather than doing anything about it. An active authority, by contrast, will have solutions, be energetic, think about legal powers and taking action rather than passively watching.”
He highlighted Home Office guidance on the Licensing Act 2003 and the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill of 2011 regarding ‘responsible authorities’. These are public organisations that must be notified of new licence applications, reviews and other licensing functions. They are entitled to make representations to the licensing authority (the licensing committee) on granting, variation or reviewing of a licence. The benefit of formally adopting this arrangement is that local licensing authorities are better-able to respond to concerns by taking action on irresponsible premises without having to wait for further comments from other responsible authorities. Other authorities can include chief police officers, fire, health and safety authorities; planning, environmental health and trading standards authorities; and bodies responsible protecting children.
The borough solicitor said a report on a range of measures could be produced. But then Independent Coun Ian Brown said: “This has been going on for a while, with consultations here and there. Maybe we need to step-up and take action on rogue licensees. We also need to influence the police in taking action. The problems have been there for years. More consultations will take time. In the meantime, residents still face the same issues.”
Conservative Coun Richard Newmark said other anti-social problems in Whalley, allegedly caused by youngsters, had moved away from the Abbey area since CCTV cameras were put up. But there were now anti-social issues elsewhere such as the The Sounds. He said councillors might support adding more CCTV cameras around Whalley.
But Coun Brown emphasised the need for speedy action on late-night pub and club issues. He said: “A large ratio of these types of incidents in the Ribble Valley happen in Whalley. That is unacceptable. We have to act. I would support Coun Mirfin’s motion to the full council. We are in a position to put forward those powers now and we have to go forward. It’s simple. We are talking about three, four or five premises in Whalley. We just need to hit them hard.”
The cumulative impact assessment report and recommendations were agreed. But there were informal talks at the end of the meeting stemming from what had been raised.