The news late yesterday was that at Licencing Subcommittee has approved the application for a licence to serve alcohol in Unit 2 of the former maternity unit at Ludlow Community Hospital. Many who have studied the application and got to know the project will applaud this decision. Others who remain opposed to any alcohol in this location will condemn it.
The licence has extensive restrictions, agreed with Gather. They met my requests for restrictions. These are given in detail below. The main points there are restrictions on hours and a requirement for ticketed member or member events.
This is the right decision for East Hamlet, one of the most socially deprived areas in Shropshire and among the 10% most socially deprived areas of England. At last, we have investment in an area of town that has been neglected.
Many people did not understand the difference between planning and licencing. I told the committee that I understood why. The distinction is not easy to get your head around. Broadly speaking licencing is about premises, events and alcohol. It has four objectives: the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. Planning deals with the location, buildings, access, parking and much more. When you are launching a new venture, it might involve both. But legally, they are separate permitting regimes. There was a lot of overlap with planning at the licencing hearing mostly ruled out of order by the chair.
I was struck that the Community Health Trust and Station Drive Surgery did not object. I was repeatedly pressed to agree the surgery’s objection to the planning application mentioned alcohol. What is said in response to a planning application cannot be considered by a licencing committee. I insisted any comments to planning were not before the committee (that is, they were not allowed to take them into account). I was also pressed to agree that “one drink and you are drunk”. I didn’t agree. There is no evidence that one drink triggers drunkenness.
And while we are talking about alcohol, planners will not consider alcohol when they determine the application, either under delegated powers or by the Southern Planning Committee. The application is for change of use to allow people to gather and for films to be shown. There are also a couple of technical changes. Alcohol is not a material planning consideration.
I am expecting planners to impose a cap on numbers at Gather and that is already under discussion. Shropshire council’s highway planners are being consulted. I see no reason the application should not be approved but that will be down to planners or the committee, not me.
The Integrated Care Board (which oversees health and social care in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin) objected. I have never seen a statement from anywhere in the NHS that is handwritten, even with a crossing out. I wonder how official it was.
Nurses at the hospital and the Friends of the Hospital objected. Nurses did not attend the hearing as would be expected. It was a surprise that the Friends did not attend. Neither for that matter did a representative from Ludlow Town Council, despite Councillor Glen Ginger being booked to speak.
Those against the proposal can appeal the decision to the magistrates court. It is not for me to judge whether that is appropriate. An appeal will involve a fee and if the appeal is lost, those bringing the case are usually liable for the council’s full costs.
It is time to put this row behind us (though I doubt a few people will do that). The main priority should be fighting the threats to Ludlow Community Hospital and other community hospitals across the county.
Gather will be a huge boost to Ludlow. An outreach project from Gather to young people across the town, including in East Hamlet. We are hoping to get something going on creative health in Ludlow, involving Gather and other arts organisations and individuals, to introduce arts based therapy into the hospital, care settings and across the community. Its very early days on this but now the alcohol row is over, I can resume discussions with the Integrated Care Board and others.