The owners of South Parade Pier have applied for a licence extension for a new bar, which is being built in about half of the amusement arcade at the front of the Pier. It is a pity to see the arcade truncated, but it was in such a tatty state that something would need to be done to make it attractive in an age when most people have far more sophisticated gaming technology in their own homes than is available at the Pier. I’m not sure halving it and putting a cramped bar in behind it does anything to enhance the Pier as a venue, but aesthetics are not a consideration in deciding on a licence extension.
So what considerations are there? I was at the meeting of East Southsea Neighbourhood Forum on Monday night, where as usual the Pier was on the agenda and the licensing application was discussed. Gerald Vernon-Jackson was present and he reminded listeners that general complaints about the Pier or its owners have no weight in making the decision. So it doesn’t matter that the owners are now subject to a Planning Enforcement Notice for failing to replace the deck edging properly (which may eventually lead to prosecution if ignored). It doesn’t matter that having not carried out they work on the edging of the Pier, parts of it are now clearly unsafe and in danger of falling onto anyone on the beach below.
The four “licensing objectives” are what matter:
The prevention of crime and disorder;
Prevention of public nuisance; and
The protection of children from harm.
Protection of children from harm is an interesting consideration given that there is a doorway straight into the new bar area from the arcade. At present there is no direct access from the arcade into the existing bar spaces. There seems to be little sense from the point of view of child protection in bringing a bar area closer to the front of the Pier. The possibility of exposing children to strong language, harm resulting from being in the vicinity of people “in drink” (if not actually drunk), or other unsuitable goings-on seems to be fairly strong in the case of this extension.
Prevention of public nuisance is quite a broad heading. Under this could be lodged concerns about the past violent disorder that has followed boxing nights on the Pier. These have routinely ended up with punch-ups spilling into the street and resulting in trouble across the Common. Boxing is again marked on the licence application as an intended entertainment. I have nothing against boxing – I am a fan of it myself – but in an environment like the Pier, it needs to be far better managed than it has been under the present licensees. Noise and general nuisance come under this heading too, and it’s no surprise that the Pier’s owners have had to pay court costs for a failed appeal against a noise abatement order. It should be possible to have events on the Pier – I’ve been to countless club nights or gigs there – but again it requires proper management. If local residents are now very wary of any kind of late-night activity on the Pier, I’m afraid we have the current ownership to blame for it. I’d love to go back to the days when the Pier hosted up-and-coming acts like Blur (although the gig I kick myself for missing was Flowered Up). But for the purposes of this application, it is a strong case to make that the application would increase the chance of public nuisance occurring.
Public safety, would, you’d think, allow the council to consider the generally decrepit state of the Pier, and on that basis bat the application away. But in fact it is of limited benefit to objectors that the wider fabric of the Pier is deteriorating, because the reference is more to the actual venue rather than the surroundings. Whether the applicant will have adequate staffing, door staff, proper CCTV, a safe layout, all these things are legitimate questions. The new bar has no toilet facilities associated directly with it according to the submitted plan, which would make keeping track of patrons coming and going to facilities elsewhere on the Pier impossible on a busy night.
There is a strange problem with the application in that Fred Nash himself admits it is inaccurate. This ought to tell heavily against it. He told The News last week that “This new bar would just join on to the Gaiety as there’s a big passageway through” rather than form part of the arcade section, as the licence application suggests. The plan submitted in support of the application suggests yet another layout, which is that the new bar is separate to both. Click on the image to enlarge it:
If an applicant can’t be bothered to make sure the information they submit to PCC is accurate and complete, why should they be trusted with a licence extension? There are important issues of public safety at stake whenever a licence is granted or extended. In this case the competence of the licensee is questionable.
As I’ve already said, I’d love to see South Parade Pier restored to its former glory as an entertainment venue capable of hosting a variety of activities. But faced with this ill-thought-out scheme I will be writing to oppose the extension, citing the responses to the “licensing objectives” described above, and if you share those concerns I hope you will join in as well.
A link to the full application (13 page pdf) is here. Comments on the application can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and these will be considered when the application itself is decided upon in a few weeks’ time. The text of my email is on the Word doc below:
You have until October 10th to make a comment. You could also consider supporting The People’s Pier/South Parade Trust , who had fliers available at the meeting on Monday.