One of the newest venues on Brighton seafront said that a licensing condition requiring it to serve drinks in plastic – rather than glass – lowered the tone.
And this undermined attempts to draw a more respectable clientele to the area, it said, as well as resulting in unnecessary plastic waste.
Sessions Market, which runs the Shelter Hall, opposite the bottom of West Street, Brighton, was billed as a food-led venue.
This had helped the operator to secure a premises licence to serve alcohol even though the site, owned by Brighton and Hove City Council, was in the busy central area.
The area’s relatively high levels of drink-related crime and disorder had led to the council bringing in a stricter licensing policy.
But Sessions Market wanted to vary some of the conditions of its licence, leading to concerns that it was trying to become a drinks-led venue.
As well as swapping glass for plastic, the venue wanted fewer of its seven kitchens to be open later in the evening, citing less demand for food at that time of night.
And it wanted to strip out 20 tables and 80 seats, prompting the suggestion that it would give rise to more people “vertical drinking”.
Sessions Market’s solicitor Jack Spiegler said that it was of the utmost importance to use glass on the terrace because throwing away so much plastic did not “sit well” with the company.
Mr Spiegler told a council licensing panel that it would bring up standards if it was responsibly managed and supervised and if the risks were assessed.
He said: “The systematic use of plastic is not only bad for the environment but also inhibits the prospect of improving the standard of offer in the area.
“Premises providing drinks in plastic containers, with no opportunity to serve a customer a glass bottle of wine or champagne at their table, will have little to no chance of transitioning away from the typical venue associated with cheap alcohol, irresponsible drinks promotions and venues targeted by problem drinkers or occasions such as hen and stag events.”
But he said that there was no intention of turning the venue into a “drinking establishment”.
Shelter Hall said in a written submission: “The premises is a seafront food hall featuring a rotation of fledgling Sussex chefs.
“The premises’ grand opening in 2020 was interrupted by the covid-19 pandemic.
“The objective of the variation application is to give the applicant some limited flexibility to help the business survive, allow the applicant to quickly adapt to any current or future covid-19 safe procedures and to promote a more civilised and premium offer within the seafront terrace area.”
It said that 860 plastic pint glasses were thrown away in 119 days – or 17 weeks – of trading last summer and, in total, it had thrown away 1,328 polycarbonate drinking vessels.
Sessions Market chief operating officer Ben O’Brien blamed the high-quality polycarbonate used by the company because it scratched quickly.
Sessions Market founder and chief executive Daniel Warne said: “If you’re serving a £100 bottle of local sparkling Sussex wine alongside a meat platter from Kenny Tutt (the Masterchef winner), the expectation is you get that from the wine bottle itself and in a glass.
“If this is a restaurant with crockery and cutlery, that is what consumers will want.”
Shelter Hall’s application to vary the conditions of its licence was opposed by the owners of rival seafront bars as well as Sussex Police and the council’s licensing department.
Police licensing officer Mark Thorogood said that the force had not opposed the original licence because the conditions ensured that it was food-led.
Mr Thorogood said that, during pre-application discussions in 2019, Sessions Market wanted “vertical drinking”.
The police opposed this, not least because the venue is in the busy central area with relatively high levels drink-related crime and disorder – and where the council’s licensing policy is stricter.
Mr Thorogood said that removing tables, promoting DJ events at the weekend and keeping fewer kitchens open would mean that Shelter Hall was operating as a bar rather than being food-led.
Sussex Police objected to drinks being served in glass on the terrace on the lower promenade because, Mr Thorogood said, the seafront was “alive” with visitors and glass would increase the risks.
Mr Thorogood cited Sessions Market’s submission written statement: “Most customers have eaten earlier in the evening, meaning there is less demand for food later on.
“The current condition places a burden on some of the fledgling food traders, effectively forcing them to stay open later when the demand is not there.”
At the licensing panel hearing on Thursday (29 April), Mr Thorogood suggested that relaxing the rules would mean that the venue was run as a bar in the evening.
Green councillor Lizzie Deane asked whether having DJs and live music changed alcohol consumption compared with when quieter background music was playing.
Mr Thorogood said that Sussex Police attended a venue with a DJ earlier this year where the atmosphere was “uncomfortable” but when the music was turned down, the atmosphere changed.
Solicitor Lisa Gilligan, for the Laine Pub Company, which owns the Fortune of War and Tempest Inn, said: “They have a genuine fear of a large venue such as this increasing vertical drinking and the impact that using glassware outside will also have.
“Laine are well aware of the challenges operating in Brighton can pose. This venue has not yet operated at all in normal times, nor at capacity, and it is a very high-profile beach-front location.”
The licensing panel retired to make its decision which should be made public in five working days.
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