Serious concerns have been raised about the management of a new West Street arts centre which is making a second attempt for a permanent alcohol licence.
Managers of the the Synergy Centre were questioned by police last month when they held a night time event without permission in the old Hed Kandi nightclub, which they have been running since summer.
It is now applying for permission to open with loud music and entertainment as late as 3am on Fridays and 4am on Saturdays, and sell alcohol as late as 1am on Friday and 2am on Saturdays.
But the licensing committee is set to hear a catalogue of concerns about the centre, including reports of gang shootings at its previous premises in Camberwell, London.
And in papers for next Tuesday’s licensing meeting, it’s also revealed that the premises are subject to prohibition orders from both the fire service and environmental health.
Brighton and Hove divisional commander Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp wrote to object to the application, saying: “Synergy … states close consultation with Sussex Police and the licensing authority has been undertaken via a number of meetings and conversations, therefore this is a reason to make the application an exception [to the council’s policy of no new licenses in the city centre].
“Sussex Police has held a number of meetings, many emails and many conversations have taken place. However, during the meetings and emails both the police and council officers have restated their opinions that this application does not meet the ‘exceptional case’ criteria.”
He added: “The proposed hours in this amended application would make these premises one of the latest opening in the area, and therefore highly likely to attract patrons who have been drinking elsewhere all evening and wish to continue drinking alcohol, rather than dispersing.
“Should this premises be granted a premises licence, Sussex Police have serious concerns in relation to … the manner in which this premises would be run.”
In its application, the centre says: “Synergy operates a unique social enterprise model to deliver affordable community arts space, producing weekend ‘conscious events’ which combine multi-media entertainment with awareness-raising of topical social, environmental, cultural and spiritual issues.
“The income from these conscious events is used to cross-subsidise charitable mid-week activity that seeks to tackle social exclusion through training, work-based learning and by creative a supportive, welcoming and creative environment for people suffering disadvantage to homelessness, long term unemployment, poor mental health or substance misuse.”
In support of their application, the Synergy Centre quoted research by Dr Ann Fox which concluded the link between alcohol and violence was determined by culture.
But Sussex Police submitted a counter argument which pointed out that Dr Fox’s research was funded by an alcohol beverage company, Lion.
The Synergy management also say that Metropolitan Police policy was to risk assess events based on the genre of music, culture and demographics – but the Met has written to the committee to strongly deny this and threaten legal action if the statement is republished.
Police have also raised concerns about the club admitting more people than their fire safety capacity, drugs found in the toilets, trip hazards and loose wires, and the employment of stewards rather than licensed door staff.
Their evidence also includes a statement from a police officer who was denied entry to the club, but could see that alcohol was on display while members of the public were inside and no temporary licence was in place, which is a criminal act.
Perhaps most damningly, Southwark Police have recorded a catalogue of issues from the Synergy Centre’s former Camberwell home, including loud music, customers vomiting against neighbouring fences and gardens, concerns over fire safety – and gang shootings.
The fire notice served a notice prohibiting the venue’s basement from being used on December 18, as it considered there is inadequate means of escape and exit lighting from the basement under the auditorium.
Another West Street club, Pryzm, also objected, raising concerns about the lack of experience of the Synergy Management, evidenced by discrepancies and missing information in its application.
It also questioned the public safety of the venue, which are in “considerable state of disrepair following occupation by several hundred squatters”.
Writing on its behalf, solicitors Poppleston Allen said: “There are various statements made throughout the document about the non-alcohol led status of the premises, and its not for profit/charitable ethos.
“The fact of the matter is that on a Friday and Saturday night, in order to meet its not for profit and charitable objectives, the sale of alcohol will be its primary purpose.”
The licence bid does have many letters of support, many saying it would be a positive contribution to Brighton’s culture, as well as an online petition signed by 2,253 people.
Supporters include Justin Freeman from Glastonbury, co-ordinator for Spirit Fest, Mary Murphy from the Human Touch holistic therapies centre in Shoreham, Dr John Drury, Dr Lizzie Seal, Dr Suraj Lakhani and Professors Dean Wilson and Luke Martell of Sussex University and Green city councillors Tom Druitt and Alex Phillips.
One of the centre’s directors, Steve Peake, is the local Green party’s convenor for the working group on drugs policy, and hit the headlines last year when he proposed legalising cannabis in Brighton, with proceeds on a levy used to pay for council services.
Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “I’m impressed by Synergy’s aim of offering affordable creative space to organisations working towards an inclusive and environmentally friendly society.
“I’ve seen that the group has a strong willingness to work with the police and to engage with local authorities in exploring the role of the cultural activity in the reduction of alcohol-related crime and disorder.”
And Sarah Mitchell, Brighton service manager for St Mungo’s homeless charity, which has just taken on the contract to provide outreach services for the council and which has been working with the centre since August, also backed the licence application.
She said: “The partnership between St Mungo’s and Synergy Centre will help to reduce both a public nuisance and disturbance and crime and disorder associated with rough sleepers and the street community in an area where there is high visibility both day and night.
“Our vision together is to provide a service user group and advocacy group to rough sleepers with Synergy providing the building and safe place for rough sleepers to come and gain support they might need.”
H Zeida from Albion in the Community said it would appreciate a venue such as their in a central Brighton location, and music college BIMM said it was entering a relationship with the centre, with a view to internships for students to gain experience in events.
It also heard from a former soldier and rough sleeper, Dave Curtis, who after attending a community support event at the centre has become a member of the operations team.
He said: “The centre wishes to be part of a broader alliance that seeks to tackle public nuisance and disturbance as well as crime and disorder that surrounds the rough sleepers community in central Brighton. I personally can testify to the effectiveness of their approach.”
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