In a decision seen by many as crucial for the future of Brixton’s important night-time economy, and for its overall future development, Lambeth council’s licensing sub-committee last night (28 November) agreed a new licence for the Duke of Edinburgh pub on Ferndale Road.
The normally staid proceedings of the committee were interrupted by spontaneous applause on several occasions as both opponents and supporters made heartfelt presentations of their points of view.
In a dispute that kicked off when England surprised everybody in last year’s men’s football world cup, a group of local residents, backed by police and council departments, were seeking restrictions on the pub’s operations that its owners said would make its business unviable and force it to close.
More than 1,000 pages of evidence were before the three-person committee that had already had one look at it in an adjourned meeting in October.
Efforts on both sides to reach a compromise, helped by local councillor Joshua Lindsey (Labour, Ferndale), had seen the differences between the council’s licensing department and the pub’s owners, Solitaire Restaurants, boiled down to just one issue: how many customers could be accommodated in the pub’s gigantic garden?
Along the way, these efforts created a list of more than 80 conditions that the pub agreed to and must meet to get and keep a new licence. This was, said leading licensing barrister Gary Grant, unprecedented in his experience.
He was appearing for the pub along with a solicitor and pub manager Stevie Mulgrave – a measure of the importance of the licence to its owners.
The opponents of the licence application, described by Gary Grant as “a small but vocal group”, were represented by Ferndale Road resident Mark Buttery, who has lived there since 2010; Cllr Lindsey also explained their concerns.
They said local people had problems with queues outside the pub and people leaving it, and that residents whose homes were next to the pub’s garden could not enjoy their own gardens and suffered disruption inside as well.
Buttery said the noise from the pub was not permissible in a residential area. It went on from noon to 10pm and there could be as many as 1,000 people in the garden.
“I’ve come to dread the first warm days of spring, as I know I can no longer enjoy my garden,” he said.
He wanted a limit of 350 people allowed in the garden.
Earlier Gary Grant has made the case for the pub, a listed building, pointing out that some of the complaints raised by residents were the direct result of orders issued to it by various departments of Lambeth council.
He also questioned opposition to queues to get into the pub and its garden, pointing out that the alternative to orderly queues supervised by pub staff was large numbers of people milling about in the streets outside.
Duke of Edinburgh manager Stevie Mulgrave assured the committee that the proposed compromise of a maximum number of people in the garden of 550 was the lowest the pub could go without being forced to close.
He explained that the unexpected success of England in the world cup had taken the pub by surprise with its then maximum capacity of 900 for the garden often reached.
It was the supporters of the pub who drew applause.
Michael Smith, director of the Brixton Business Improvement District, began by reading from a seemingly never-ending list of Brixton pubs that have closed in recent years.
He stressed the importance of the night-time economy and the employment it provides for local people and the taxes it pays to Lambeth and to London.
Steve Byrne, whose catering business is based at the pub, said he and the six people he employs would lose their jobs if the pub was forced to close.
Carlos Benaguides of Los Siempre Secos sports and social club, representing the Latin American community, said the Duke of Edinburgh had hosted a group watching football every Saturday for the past 20 years. He said pub was “our base and focal point”.
Noah Halperin, who has lived in Brixton for 16 years, pointed out that the pub had had quiet and busy periods over the years. He also stressed its community value: “Kids, pets, sport, knitting clubs, runners. This is not somewhere people are just going to party”.
And he pointed out that, despite police concern, there were no records of police having been called to the pub because of trouble there.
After nearly three hours, the members of the committee, Fred Cowell and councillors Linda Bray and Rezina Chowdhury, retired to consider their decision.
Supporters of the pub rejoiced when Cllr Cowell returned to announce that the limit for the garden would be set at 550. The decision is subject to appeal and the full reasons for it will be issued in writing later.
Cllr Cowell thanked all those involved for “working so hard to present a set of agreed conditions well in advance of this hearing”.
Cllr Lindsey also thank residents and the pub for “the open dialogue we’ve had over the last six months.
“Both sides agreed many ways to help the pub run without impacting the lives of those who live next door,” he said. “Capacity remains a concern, but we will keep working together.”
The first major test of the dozens of new conditions that the pub has accepted, and the 550 limit, could come in the summer should England do well in the Euro 2020 football competition.
Among the concessions made by the pub is that any TV broadcasts shown in its garden will be silent.
It only applied a new licence to sort out its old one – which allowed it to open from 7am to 3am and play live and recorded music in the garden with a capacity approaching 1,000. Owners Solitaire Restaurants took over the pub after its previous owners are forced to leave.
You can hear a recording of the meeting and read the 1,000-plus pages of evidence, reports and submissions on the council website.