Memorandum submitted by the Historic Houses Association

 

Context

 

The Historic Houses Association represents the interests of Britain's historic houses, castles and gardens in private ownership. The HHA has 1,500 member properties, more than those in the stewardship of the National Trust, English Heritage and their equivalents throughout the UK combined. Of these, nearly one third are regularly open to the public. The only criterion for membership of the HHA is that the member property is listed.

 

The HHA estimates that approximately two-thirds of the built heritage is privately owned and maintained. Between them HHA members represent, collectively, one of the greatest 'ownership' of listed buildings in Britain: both I and II* properties as well as Grade II properties, many being ancillary buildings on large estates.

 

It is our members who manage much of the nation's finest privately owned heritage, paying for it and securing its future. Owners have extensive responsibilities in respect of the maintenance of both buildings and land, often at great personal cost.

 

 

1. Introduction

 

In 2005 these houses welcomed some 15 million visitors, of which about 7 million were to special events, such as concerts, festivals, conferences, weddings, civil partnerships and corporate events as well as small, community events.

 

These activities generated 1.6 - 2.0 billion in spending in the UK economy (using the former BTA "multiplier" that 1 spending at the entrance gate generates up to 24 in accommodation, transport, catering and retail.) In fragile rural economies expenditure in and related to historic houses can be crucial to underpinning the viable management of associated areas of high landscape value; without tourism, agriculture alone would no longer be able to support them.

 

Any threat to the viability of these events, the profitability of which is, in some cases, already marginal and in others subject to uncertainties such as the weather, will affect not only the properties themselves, but also the wider rural economy. Concerns about the implementation of the Licensing Act remain, with one HHA member commenting that 'it doesn't work as a 'one size fits all' Act, is overly prescriptive for small events, and too expensive for the large ones'.

 

The HHA response will focus on the Culture Media & Sport Committee's question on whether the Act has led to a reduction in bureaucracy for those applying for licences under the new regime. This is an issue of some importance to many HHA members and in some circumstances has serious repercussions for the financial viability of their operations.

 

 

2. Elton Review

 

The HHA supported the conclusions of the Elton Review which called for changes to the fees structure to ensure that for larger events they reflect only the reasonable costs of local authorities in providing licences. There are concerns that, for very large events, fees are grossly out of proportion to the actual costs incurred and are resulting in rural venues which wish to host events on an occasional basis - say fewer than five times a year - finding it difficult to tender for large events.

 

The Elton Review found that during the first three years of operation, fee payers incurred higher costs than anticipated. Amongst its recommendations are that fees for exceptionally large events, such as music festivals and country fairs, should be set locally and that the multiplier on bands D and E, covering the largest premises, should be redefined.

 

2.1 Additional Licensing Costs

 

Among HHA members, Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, for example, has experienced a number of difficulties since the introduction of the Licensing Act. They hold an annual licence for 14,999 which is suitable for most of their events. However, it is too expensive for them to license their park at maximum licensed capacity (125,000 per day) on an annual basis, without annual confirmed business. 

 

As a result, the smaller events (20-80,000 capacity) tend to go to the Milton Keynes Bowl, Wembley or even the O2 Arena, as they have an annual licence for their maximum capacity and the shared cost is minimal to the promoters.  This has proved a huge disadvantage to Knebworth, for example in relation to three events which were re-homed due to the delay in completion of the construction of Wembley Stadium. Knebworth tendered for all three and it appeared they would be successful with one, the Bon Jovi event, but this eventually went to Milton Keynes Bowl as, in the words of the promoter, they couldn't justify the additional licensing costs, which would simply affect the bottom line.

 

In effect Knebworth believes that the Licensing Act costs them five times as much as it did five years ago for large-scale events and renders them uncompetitive for certain opportunities.

2.2 De Minimis

 

The HHA also supports the recommendation in the Elton Review that the licensing fees regime should be de minimis for certain premises types where licensable activity is peripheral to overall activity, such as horse trials, country fairs and game fairs.

 

It is disappointing that there has been no formal response to the Elton Review, particularly since the Licensing Minister responded to the Elton Review by saying, 'we will fully consider all the recommendations in the report and publish a response shortly'. The HHA recommends that this situation is now remedied as soon as possible.

 

 

3. Reduction in Bureaucracy

 

The new inquiry asks whether the Act has led, or looks likely to lead to, a reduction in bureaucracy for those applying for licences under the new regime and for those administering it.

 

3.1 Consistency of Application of Licensing Powers

 

The original aim stated in the consultation on the bill, of ensuring "consistent application of licensing powers by licensing authorities" has not been achieved. There are some examples of good practice: at Beaulieu for example, where the owners were advised they need not apply for separate licences for each building for which a licence was being sought, while others have been offered a single licence allowing areas to be "zoned" according to activity/capacity.

 

However, the HHA, through its members' houses, is aware of the potential for inconsistent interpretations of the guidelines on a number of issues. One HHA member believes that the change resulting from local councils taking legal responsibility for licensing has made licensing enforcement 'overly prescriptive'. In the view of this owner, their historic house and grounds 'often feels like the council training ground, as we have a multitude of officers visit, usually in groups, always on public event days and often just to pop in.  They are of course welcome, but time-consuming'.

 

3.2 Apportionment

 

There can also be issues of apportionment, for instance when large events which do not need to be licensed have to obtain a licence for any licensable activity, however small. There are occasions where particular premises are licensed for a maximum of 14,999 persons, for example, but a small number of very large, intrinsically non-licensable events are also hosted at the same site.

 

One such event in 2008 resulted in attendances of more than 50,000 visitors per day over three days, of which a small minority at any one time were involved in the purchase of alcohol. In the spirit of the Elton Review, on this occasion the local authority interpreted the Act in a way that did not demand that the fees must reflect the total number of people on the premises, since only a small proportion could have been involved in licensable activity. Instead, a detailed plan of the event site was required, with each area containing licensable activity identified, together with an assessed capacity for each area. The costs and the bureaucratic requirements were substantially less, as a consequence and significantly contributed to the viability of the event for the organisers.

 

While this is an example of good practice, the spirit of the legislation and indeed the stated intentions of Ministers need not always be evident in the implementation at local level. Another historic house was threatened by the local authority which issued its licence, with a review via one of the responsible authorities, unless it submitted a variation application.  After much discussion the owners decided to try to keep a positive working relationship with the local planning authority and voluntarily submitted a variation application in order to avoid conflict. However, the process has proved costly. 

 

3.3 Private Events

 

There is also some confusion about the licensing requirements for private events, although DCMS guidance on this has improved. The guidance states that a licence is not needed at private events, where there is no sale of alcohol, if premises owners/managers hire out a room or rooms in their home for a private event, provided that the hirer organises any entertainment, such as music, or dancing. However, this is being interpreted in different ways around the country. Some licensing authorities agree a licence is not needed, whilst others suggest that because facilities for entertainment are being provided - such as a room which could be used as a dance floor - then a licence is required. An HHA member has been in the position where the licensing officer and the licensing solicitor within the same local authority offered a different view from one another.

 

3.4 Charitable Events

 

There is a particular need for increased flexibility for occasional events which are for charitable purposes. Many historic house owners make their houses available to charities, to use for fundraising events.  The proceeds go to these charities and typically, the house receives nothing.  However, a Temporary Event Notice is required for any licensable activity, such as live music or the sale of alcohol and it is quite possible for these events to accumulate a number of TENs at the house and thus constrain the ability of the house itself to organise its own events, using TENs.

 

This is surely not the intention of the TEN procedure, which was designed to help small events, typically charitable events and not to penalise rural businesses, such as historic houses, which run events to supplement their income, in order to help maintain the house.

 

The HHA would support a change in the law, so that TENs for events organised by charities, which involved no commercial benefit for the venue, would not count towards the total number of TENs for that venue.  That would enable the venue to organise a reasonable number of its own events.  In terms of the views of local residents, events requiring TENs are unlikely in any case to be disruptive and any number greater than twelve will be a result purely of charitable events, that are likely to have local support anyway.

 

3.5 Licensing Costs

 

As a general rule, it is important for the credibility of the system that local authorities cannot be perceived to be using the Licensing Act as a revenue raising device. One owner of a major historic house pointed out that licensing costs were previously based on actual costs and the notion that a local authority might now make a profit from the process is not a popular one.  While some authorities are taking a more sensible, pragmatic approach to implementation of the Act, DCMS guidance should include reference to the findings of the Elton Review and should ensure that local authorities are aware that they have both the powers and the responsibility to be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of their own local areas.

 

 

September 2008