A new venue on Brighton seafront appears to be trying to switch from a place to eat to a drinks-led venue, according those running rival premises.
Shelter Hall, which was trumpeted as Brighton’s first “food hall” by the council, wants to reduce the number of kitchens serving late meals.
It also wants to change its layout in a way that, rivals suggest, would mean it became like a bar full of people drinking alcohol – not all seated and served by waiters.
An anonymous rival wrote to Brighton and Hove City Council objecting to a licensing application by Sessions Market, which runs the rebuilt Shelter Hall, on the seafront opposite the bottom of West Street.
Sessions Market wants variations to some of the licensing conditions that it accepted less than a year ago.
The variations include stripping out 20 tables with waiter service for up to 80 seated customers and allowing people to drink while standing – sometimes referred to as “vertical drinking”.
And Shelter Hall’s promotional material highlights live music and DJs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings for up-and-coming musicians and creative artists.
The rival wrote: “They have DJs playing in the entrance which is hardly befitting for a family, food-led environment.
“Everything about this variation is contrary to the Brighton and Hove licensing plan.
“This is an extremely generous licence already, enabling alcohol to be purchased without food which, for a restaurant premises, is very dubious anyway.”
The rival stopped short of saying that the council had granted the “extremely generous licence” because it owned the freehold to the premises.
But Sussex Police also objected to the council making an exception to its own licensing rules for its own premises, saying: “We do not feel it would be responsible.”
Even the council’s licensing department has written a formal letter of objection which is due to be considered by a licensing panel, made up of three councillors, in the coming week.
The objection letter said: “This is moving away from the original concept of a food-led, seated venue.”
At a council licensing panel in June last year Sessions Market’s chief executive Daniel Warne said that Shelter Hall would be a “unique” food-led venue offering the best in food and entertainment. It would, he said, “improve the demographic” of the area.
The council has received eight objections to the application to vary Shelter Hall’s licence conditions, including those from the police and the council licensing department. There have been five letters of support.
Another rival, whose details were redacted by the council, objected to proposed changes to Shelter Hall’s layout, to fewer kitchens serving food in the last hour of trade and to removing tables because it would “encourage vertical drinking” which the existing licence bans.
The objection said: “Permitting vertical drinking at this establishment moves totally away from the premise that this is a ‘food hall’, ie, restaurant with alcohol accompanying food.
“The removal of tables and permitting standing is obviously to encourage vertical drinking.
“I understand that the premises plans to have ‘pre-booked events’ nightly. A pre-booked event is not a private party. It could just be the advertisement of entertainment, therefore by default, this variation turns the venue into a bar.”
Shelter Hall also wants to lift a restriction on its licence so that it can serve drinks in glasses rather than plastic – a move supported by some.
The premises are in the heart of an area that the council has designated a “cumulative impact zone” where drink-related crime and disorder have led the council to adopt stricter policies.
A late submission by Shelter Hall said that Sessions Market wanted the flexibility to help its tenants’ businesses survive while providing “a more civilised and premium offer” on the seafront.
Sessions Market said: “There is absolutely no intention to change the business model, nor transform the premises into a wet-led vertical drinking venue or similar.
“The premises will continue to operate as a food hall controlled by extant licence conditions not subject to change.”
The licensing panel is due to start at 10am on Thursday (29 April) and is scheduled to be webcast on the council website.
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