Police have criticised a pub company for a “lack of local knowledge” after it applied for a licence to serve alcohol at a proposed new city centre venue.
The New World Trading Company has been granted planning permission to convert the old Top Shop store, in Churchill Square, into the Botanist, part of a national chain of more than 30 gastropubs.
But it does not yet have a drinks licence. And according to Sussex Police, its application for a licence showed “little knowledge of the local area and the challenges” regarding central Brighton’s night-time economy.
Brighton and Hove City Council’s licensing department and a neighbouring business have also objected to New World’s application.
They believe that a licence would breach council policy because Churchill Square is in an area that is “saturated” with licensed premises and subject to tougher rules aimed at reducing crime and disorder.
New World has applied to serve alcohol from 9am to 2am from Thursday to Saturday and from 9am to 1am from Sunday to Wednesday.
In papers published before a council licensing panel hearing next Thursday (2 March), New World included 291 pages of evidence. It claimed that there were exceptional circumstances that justified its licence application.
The submission included an 88-page report by specialist licensing consultant Philip Hadfield featuring details of Brighton’s late-night economy in and around West Street, The Lanes and North Laine.
But, it failed to mention any of the many bars and clubs in King’s Road Arches on the seafront – or along Madeira Drive – and did not feature them on its map.
Inspector Michelle Palmer-Harris, from Sussex Police, said in a letter of objection: “We find it concerning that within the submitted evidence, there does seem to be a lack of local knowledge, especially regarding licensed venues close by.
“Their submission states there is a lack of licensed premises surrounding Churchill Square. Additionally, it states the area is not populated by off-licences and late-night takeaways.
“The map the applicant has provided displaying licensed premises does not include outlets such as off-licences, cafés, restaurants and late-night eat-in and takeaway food outlets, some of which (are) with alcohol licences.
“The area along the seafront, which is home to several late-night venues, has also been omitted.
“This is all very concerning and shows little knowledge of the local area and the challenges this has for the emergency services and partner agencies.”
A business owner, whose details were redacted by the council, said that they were refused similar licensing hours “some years ago”.
They said: “I believe that policing of the area will be put to further strain as the public will be encouraged to spread from the present night club area around West Street to the shopping centre ‘piazza’ which presently is relatively peaceful at night.
“There are presently three licensed outlets on the square and a number of snack bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity which are more than able to service the public requirement and I believe that another bar/restaurant on the ‘piazza’ would be superfluous.”
New World’s property director Tim McCormac said that the Botanist was “not a typical public house or restaurant” but an “all-day haven”.
He said: “It is accurately described as a ‘destination premises’. That is, one where patrons go with the intention of remaining, taking advantage of a better-quality offering at all times of the day.
“The Botanist is not somewhere that customers stop off for a quick, cheap drink en route to the next venue. It is the destination.”
A letter from Churchill Square’s owner Abrdn PLC, sent by the company’s senior assets manager Angus Stenhouse, said that Churchill Square’s food offering was poor compared with similar locations.
With the large four-level former Top Shop unit vacant as well as the empty former Debenhams store, he said that the company had to “derive maximum value” from the outlet.
Mr Stenhouse said: “Since the demise of Top Shop, we have been approached by a number of leisure and F&B (food and beverage) operators for the space, ranging from vertical drinking bars to family entertainment centres.
“We have reviewed all options carefully with our consultants and centre management team, coming to the conclusion that the Botanist is the best solution.”
A supporting letter from the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership’s executive director Gavin Stewart was included with the application.
Mr Stewart cited the creation of 116 new jobs and the importance of hospitality to the tourism economy, worth £860 million a year.
New World and Dr Hadfield were approached for comment.
The licensing panel hearing is due to start at 10am on Thursday 2 March at Brighton Town Hall.