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Introduced by the Licensing Act 2003, cumulative impact policies are a tool for licensing authorities to limit the growth of licensed premises in a problem area. They’re also known as CIPs, saturation zones, stress areas and special policies.

Licensing authorities often consult on introducing a CIP in areas where the number, type or concentration of licensed premises, such as those selling alcohol or takeaway food late at night, is high or exceptional, and causes serious nuisance and disorder problems.

How do cumulative impact policies work?

Each local authority works CIPs differently. Some councils have framework or core hours, and the cumulative impact policy only applies to applications which seek licensable activities beyond these hours, whereas others such as Westminster, robustly safeguard the terms of their cumulative impact policies often resulting in all applications being opposed purely based on a policy being in place. Conversely, councils such as Bristol and Leeds take a more pragmatic approach and are open to dialogue and consultation.

The local licensing authority must keep the policy under review. It can consult on expanding or reducing the area the policy applies to, but normally the council will to try to keep it as is or expand it, based on police advice following crimes or anti-social behaviour. Importantly, case law has confirmed that councils mustn’t impose quotas on the number of premises or their capacity.

Impact of cumulative impact policies

It’s sometimes argued that cumulative impact policies stagnate growth and development by providing existing licence holders, which may not be operating as effectively as possible, with protection from new operators competing for their business and forcing them to raise their game.

What are the chances of obtaining a new premises licence or variation in an area with a cumulative impact policy?

Where a cumulative impact policy exists, there’s usually a presumption that applications for new premises licences, or variations to existing ones such as increasing hours, capacity or changing conditions, will be refused.

Cumulative impact policies can be extremely difficult to overcome. Demonstrating that by comparing your operation to nearby premises may not be straightforward. If you can show that your licence won’t have a negative impact on your licensing objectives, you increase your chances of success.

If you’re an experienced operator that can demonstrate a successful track record, show evidence of no crime and can afford the related legal costs, you may be able to get a new premises licence or licence variation over the line and secure a premises licence in a cumulative impact area. If you’re a start-up wanting to break into the market, it can be incredibly difficult to obtain a licence and you may end up with more restrictive hours and conditions to comply with than you originally wanted.

We have been successful with extending hours, increasing capacity and obtaining new premises licences for our clients with premises in areas covered by a cumulative impact policy. From our experience, the key is how you approach the application.

We suggest consulting with the authorities upfront. Even though this may seem a more drawn out process in some situations, this maximises your chances of getting the local authority on side early. Before you consult with the licensing authorities, ensure that you understand your operation, your community and how you manage your relationships with your neighbours.

How widespread are cumulative impact policies across England and Wales?

Although there are now over 200 cumulative impact policies in place across England and Wales, they don’t cover the equivalent number of councils. The London Borough of Islington, for instance, has six cumulative impact policy areas, Bristol has five and the London Borough of Newham has six.  Surprisingly, Manchester city centre has no CIP in place (although there is for surrounding parts of the city) and the city of Sheffield currently has no CIPs in place. However, the licensing authority here does state that there are some areas of concern and the need for the designation of cumulative impact areas will be kept under review. Some areas which interestingly have a CIP are Melton Mowbray, South Gloucestershire District Council (Kingswood), Forest Heath District Council (Newmarket) and even our home city of Derby.

Are cumulative impact policies here to stay?

Even though a leading licensing lawyer recently went as far as describing cumulative impact policies as a ‘cancer’, and other industry experts have coined them the ‘anti-business’ and ‘anti-night-time economy’, cumulative impact policies are here to stay for the time being and are, in one way or another, enforced by the authorities.

Should you want to extend hours or obtain a licence in an area covered by cumulative impact policy, we would advise taking a tactful approach and seeking legal advice.

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