Alcohol licence approved for St Albans café leaves neighbours worried about noise

George Street Canteen. Picture: Archant

George Street Canteen. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

City centre locals claimed granting a popular café permission to sell alcohol in the evenings would result in late night noise disruption.

Owners of the George Street Canteen initially asked St Albans district council (SADC) for a licence to sell liquor from 8.30am until 10pm - sparking outrage from neighbours who feared the café would evolve into another bar on the lively stretch.

However, after listening to these concerns the licensing hours were reduced and SADC approved its application between 8.30am to 6pm.

Before the decision one neighbour said the canteen is “very well run” and does not currently cause a public nuisance, but this might change if it became a drinking establishment: “The narrow pavements of George Street are regularly obstructed in the evenings by groups of noisy customers of the many bars and restaurants which requires pedestrians and motorists to take avoiding action.

“This leads to confrontation and anti-social behaviour. In addition, the pavements and gutters are littered with rubbish and cigarette ends which extends onto Romeland and Romeland Hill.”

Condition of its licence says the canteen must not empty bottle bins before 7.30am and after 7pm, and must operate a strict Challenge 25 policy.

Another objector said: “As residents we enjoy the advantages and disadvantages of town centre living . The main disadvantages being the late night revelry associated with living in such close proximity to so many licensed restaurants and bars.”

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They said the small canteen would probably use its outside courtyard to accommodate new customers looking for drinks: “In addition to the noise generated during business hours those customers leaving late at night will further compound the already excessive clamour of shouting, shrieking, and slamming of car and taxi doors associated with intoxicated patrons.”

Another local pointed out its location, describing the new licence as unnecessary: “The site adjoins the churchyard of the Cathedral which continues to be in use for burials.

“This is consecrated ground and should be kept peaceful and contemplative for religious services and for grieving and other visitors.”

Chairman of the licensing sub-committee which approved the canteen’s application is Cllr Malachy Pakenham.

He said: “It’s what we thought was reasonable and appropriate.

“People can be in there anyway and can make as much noise sober with coffee or a cup of tea. I know people get louder when they drink but that hasn’t happened yet.”

He described the reduced hours as a “compromise” between allowing the business to thrive and listening to the concerns of residents.

“I don’t think it will be detrimental to the residents but his business will make more profits because he can sell some alcohol alongside his cakes and sandwiches.”

The canteen has been open for about 10 years, but owned by Kevin and Julie Lee since 2016.

Last year, the establishment won Best Café in Hertfordshire in the Muddy Stiletto Awards.

Kevin said: “We were quite happy with the result. We only ever wanted the licence to stay open that late so we could have the odd function or event.

“We have been here a couple of years and not many gardens overlook the Abbey like ours so it would be nice to do that - but we can still apply for one-off licences.”

He said it was a family-run business which did not intend to anger its neighbours or become a “party place”.

Bars and pubs currently operating from George Street include Suckerpunch and Dylans Kings Arms.

Alcohol sales licence is often a controversial topic, especially close to residential homes.

In January 2017, an SADC licensing sub-committee agreed to extend the opening hours of The White Swan in Upper Dagnall Street.

Neighbours were outraged, but the owner of the pub insisted he would work with police to “balance the needs of the residents with the right to have an active nightlife”.

In August 2014, St Albans Civic Society submitted a formal complaint to SADC’s CEO at the time, James Blake, after The Snug was allowed to remain open until 2am every day of the week except Sunday.