Council, Police debate conditions for reopening town nightlife

As national government prepares to relax Covid regulations to allow the resumption of indoor hospitality without social distancing from 19th July, two licensing committees of Hastings Borough Council have been debating the conditions to be attached to two nightlife venues in the town centre. The result in each case seems to be a compromise that reduces opening hours but leaves the respective entertainment providers otherwise able to function. 

CREDIT: Dave Young

Crowleys Bar, on the corner of Havelock Road opposite Hastings station, reopened, subject to Covid restrictions, last month. Its licence entitled it to stay open until 2am three nights a week (Thursday to Saturday), but Sussex Police sought a review, complaining not only of breaches of those restrictions but also copious incidents of drug abuse, excessive drinking and violence. The council’s licensing panel has now ordered Crowleys to close at midnight each evening apart from two Saturdays per month, notified at least 30 days in advance to the police, when music (live or recorded) and dancing will be allowed until 1 am for customers already within. The bar has also been required to install and monitor a CCTV system and to train and regulate appropriate door staff. 

At a separate hearing with a differently constituted committee, the council debated last week the conditions to be attached to an intended new entry onto the nightclub scene – South Star on the ground floor and basement of 20 Robertson Street, formerly the venue of Fluid. The licence application was lodged in the name of Lodgeistics Limited, whose registered office is at the College of the Holy Child in Magdalen Road. 

The applicants were seeking opening hours up to 3am seven nights a week for music, comedy and arts provision, aimed (they stated) at an over-25s audience. Plays and films as well as live and recorded music would be on offer.

The council already has a clear policy to object to any “nightclub-type” premises staying open beyond 2am, and it requires any prospective licensee to demonstrate that its establishment will not add to existing problems identified in the town centre already characterised by “the high concentration of licensed venues”.

Taking this into account, Sussex Police submitted on 25th May an apparently root-and-branch objection to the application based on pre-Covid levels of crime and disorder, including both serious violence and knife crime, in the immediate area of Castle ward. They pointed out that the peak times for this offending was between midnight and 4am during the weekend, and argued that “the night time economy and alcohol is a key motivator for the high violence levels within this ward”. Given the number of licensed premises already operating within the area, and the levels of crime and disorder, the new establishment would “not only cause fear within our local population but also burden further unnecessary demand on our emergency services when they are still in the throes of managing a pandemic of unprecedented scales”. It was “likely to deter vulnerable persons from wanting to access the town centre and the facilities that are being offered”.

Despite these warnings, however, it seems that Sussex Police were not fundamentally opposed. They went on to state that, following discussion, Lodgeistics have agreed to accept conditions relating to training of staff, a “Challenge 25 policy” (anyone looking under the age of 25 being required to give ID evidence of age), and the keeping of an incidents and refusals register. Subject to nightly closure at 2am, and to the club employing doorkeepers separate from bar staff, the police seem to have accepted that there would be sufficient safeguards for the club to be allowed to open. 

The licensing committee’s decision on the South Star application was not available at the time of going to press, but it seems likely that they will grant a licence on the terms the police have, in effect, negotiated. 

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