BrewDog has won permission to open a huge new bar in Bristol’s Harbourside, but the opening hours of the new venue have been scaled back after fierce opposition from residents.
The craft beer bar chain originally applied for a late-night licence to sell alcohol until 1.30am in the former Costa Coffee store on the corner of Millennium Promenade and Cathedral Square.
But it agreed to bring forward last orders by up to two hours and to make other concessions after the authorities and a whopping 165 neighbours objected to the licensing application.
Five people living in blocks of flats in the Harbourside spoke passionately about their fears at a licensing hearing where the premises licence was granted on Thursday (January 6).
They said ruthless corporations who “don’t care about ruining people’s lives” were turning the high-density residential area into a “drinking area”, with all the associated problems of noise, nuisance and crime and disorder.
They accused Bristol City Council of failing to protect the mixed-use neighbourhood from an excess of pubs and bars, saying that the granting of an alcohol licence for bowling alley and bar chain Lane7 in 2020 had been the “tipping point”.
Every new licensed premise increased the levels of alcohol-related noise and anti-social behaviour in the area, and the new BrewDog bar would “undoubtedly” do the same, they said.
The new bar lies in a “cumulative impact” zone in the city centre considered to be saturated with licensed premises.
Under council policy, a new licence for a late-night drinking establishment in the zone would not be granted if it were considered likely to cause any extra crime and disorder or public nuisance or risks to public safety.
A legal representative for BrewDog Retail Limited told the hearing it was a “long held ambition” of the company to open a second bar in Bristol, having opened its first in Baldwin Street a decade ago.
Solicitor Felicity Tulloch said the company thought the former Costa and empty unit next door in the Harbourside would be an “appropriate” location as there were other licensed premises nearby.
She said BrewDog had been surprised by the level of public opposition to its licensing application, given the hours it sought mirrored those in planning permission granted for the premises last year.
The meeting heard that Avon and Somerset Police and the council’s pollution control and health and safety departments also raised concerns about the application, but withdrew their objections after the company agreed to submit to a number of conditions on the licence.
These included calling last orders at midnight instead of 1.30am on Fridays and Saturdays and at 11pm instead of 1am on Sundays through Thursdays, with closing half an hour later.
Ms Tulloch said the earlier closing times meant the bar would no longer be a late-night venue and therefore would not trigger the cumulative impact assessment (CIA) policy.
“It’s not a nightclub, it’s not a vertical drinking bar, it’s not a late-night takeaway – it’s a pub with pub hours,” she said.
“They’re not out of step with those that are in the vicinity, and in our view the conditions are robust and appropriate, ensuring that it trades in a certain way to ensure that licensing objectives aren’t undermined.”
BrewDog’s Baldwin Street bar was not associated with anti-social behaviour or crime and none of the company’s 70 UK bars had ever had their licences reviewed or revoked, she added.
Residents say new bar will bring extra noise, nuisance and crime
But David Mair, chairman of the leaseholders association for Balmoral House and Waverley House, which are next to the former Costa and have 104 apartments, said the new bar would “undoubtedly” add to the cumulative impact of licensed premises in the Harbourside, just as Lane7 had.
All but two units in Millennium Promenade offer late-night drinking at weekends beyond 11pm, and residents were already “suffering” from noise and public nuisance as a result, he said.
The area already has the second highest crime rate in Bristol, he noted. “[The new bar] would be yet another drinking establishment of a very large scale and much closer to the flats than any existing ones so far,” Mr Mair said.
“It’s plainly obvious to us that the current problems in the neighbourhood would be exacerbated and that the application should be rejected.”
Resident Bernice Gollop said the high crime rate was driven by drunken revellers and the community didn’t want or need any more pubs or bars.
Liz Brealey, who lives in Anchor Point, a block of flats opposite the site of the proposed bar, said: “As a woman, I shouldn’t have to fear being harassed by drunk men, essentially, outside my front door.
“Just because it’s not the suburbs doesn’t mean it’s not a residential area.”
Lane7 the ‘tipping point’
Another resident, who asked not to be named by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, said families had chosen to live in the “busy and noisy” mixed-use area, but big chains like Lane7 and BrewDog Retail were upsetting the balance by setting up next door to people’s homes.
“They obviously don’t care about ruining other people’s lives,” he said. Lane7 opened in May last year, replacing troubled restaurant The Cuban which closed after a failed bid by police to revoke its licence.
“That’s been a failure of the system, and the residents are suffering the consequences because, prior to Lane7, the drunken crowd stayed mostly to the other end of the street,” the resident said.
“This has been the tipping point for the neighbourhood.
“The Cuban was a problem, but it’s nothing compared to Lane7, because Lane7 is a drinking establishment. It’s huge. There’s a huge number of drunk people coming out of there.” T
he Local Democracy Reporting Service has sought comment from Lane7.
The resident said the new BrewDog bar might have earlier closing times, but they were still “far too late” for a pub just 6m to 30m away from the nearest flats, much closer than Lane7 whose entrance lies 65m away.
Resident Simon Pepper said he was “appalled” by the hours originally proposed by BrewDog, which would have been an “utter nightmare”, but that the revised hours were still “bad”.
Four residents supported the original licensing application, the meeting heard.
Committee grants licence with earlier closing times
The licensing committee approved the revised application, saying the bar would not “clearly” be a late-night establishment with the earlier closing times and therefore would not contribute to the cumulative impact.
They imposed an extra condition on the licence requiring the outdoor area to be closed by 9.30pm and cleared of tables and chairs by 10pm.
BrewDog had already dropped its request for licensing permission to play music and serve late-night refreshments until 1am or 1.30am, but the Live Music Act 2012 means it can play live and recorded music until 11am in any case.
A city council planning officer granted planning permission under delegated authority in August last year to applicants Canada Life Investments for internal and external works to combine the Costa unit with an adjoining space for a new flexible commercial area with the option for a “shop, restaurant or indoor sport, recreation or fitness use and/or a drinking establishment”.
The officer’s decision report reasoned there would be no overall increase in the number of drinking establishments since The Cuban became Lane7.
Councillor vows to address ‘unfair’ gap between planning and licensing
Licensing committee chair, Conservative councillor Richard Eddy, told the hearing he would raise the need to address the gap between planning and licensing policy at a meeting of the council’s local plan working group on January 18. “
In my view, the council still needs to address and clarify where its planning policy dovetails with its licensing policy because in a mixed community like Harbourside there’s inconsistency and frankly it’s unfair both to the applicant and the residents,” he said.