Challenge to St Albans pub opening decision

The Snug Bar

The Snug Bar - Credit: Archant

A row over the opening hours of a city centre pub has been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman for a ruling.

St Albans Civic Society has lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman over the district council’s handling of the opening hours of St Albans pub The Snug in French Row.

It is the first time in at least the past 20 years that the Civic Society has complained to the Ombudsman over the council’s actions which they feel have been undemocratic and lacking transparency.

The row blew up last summer when residents accused the council of sweeping their concerns aside after an out-of-court agreement was reached allowing the pub to remain open until 2am daily except Sunday.

The council’s licensing sub-committee had turned down the extended opening hours several months earlier after hearing residents’ concerns. They agreed it could only open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.

But the owners of the Snug appealed against the decision - and even before the hearing was held, the council agreed to the six-day 2am opening. It has since apologised to residents for not notifying them about the appeal although it has no statutory duty to do so.

The Civic Society lodged an official complaint with the district council basing their argument on the fact that there had been no change in circumstances or further evidence presented between the licensing committee hearing and the appeal.

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The council has always argued that it did not feel it had sufficient evidence to defend the appeal successfully. Legal services manager, Charles Turner, also said the council had no record of noise complaints in the previous six years and the police had not received any complaints about disorder.

But residents maintain that making a complaint is difficult because of the requirement to pinpoint exactly which pubs those making a disturbance had frequented so that the nuisance could be linked to a particular licensed premises.

In its complaint to the Ombudsman, the Civic Society raises the issue that the determination would enable similar cases to be overturned by council officers as opposed to elected councillors .

It argues that it should not be possible for an unelected council officer to revise a decision taken by councillors without some kind of independent scrutiny.

Civic Society member Eric Roberts said this week that the Ombudsman had appointed a case officer which indicated the issue was considered worth looking into.

He added: “We hope this will give the council a shake up. It just seems that residents’ concerns are ignored.”