Loughton church granted premises licence despite fears it could be ‘abused’

An Essex council has granted a new premises licence to a church group despite a local councillor’s objection that it could be “abused”.

At an Epping Forest District Council meeting on October 31, St John the Baptist Church in Loughton was granted a license for the supply of alcohol both on the church grounds as well as those of its attached hall and field, as well as play amplified music and host dance performances.

Sam Davis, who helps to organise events hosted by the church and bookings of its facilities by community groups, said that the application for the licence to supply alcohol and play amplified music on site between the hours of 10am and 11pm could appear “excessive without knowing the reasons”.

She explained that there was a requirement for the licence to include such long hours due to the changeable nature of the religious calendar, but that “the (church) bar is never the focus of an event, only a pleasant addition”.

She added that there had never been any formal complaints made about noise or anti-social behaviour by the authorities or locals living in the proximity of the premises. She said that the church hall and field being available to hire is essential and that the St John the Baptist team is “proud of being the centre of our community”.

However, Councillor Barbara Cohen (Loughton Residents Association, St Mary’s) expressed her apprehensions over the application, saying: “If you (St John the Baptist team) were granted a license to sell alcohol from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, it could be abused. I know that this is not your intention, but someone else could get hold of your license and use it (in an abusive) way.”

Chairing the meeting, Councillor Jon Whitehouse (Lib Dem., Epping Hemnall) reminded Cllr Cohen that only licensed individuals would be able to responsibly supply alcohol on occasions in which the church management team were operating the bar. Sam Davis clarified that one member of the congregation is a personal licence holder, and has been working with the management team to reach the best arrangement.

Cllr Cohen responded by saying that, although she agrees with the application in seeking an allowance for alcohol and music on the grounds of the church on a more permanent basis, “the future management of the church could allow (objectionable) things to happen with a license this broad”, such as “music rehearsals and stag parties”. However, church representatives were clear that this was not in their plans.

Ultimately, the licence was granted with the condition of all amplified music, live or recorded, would not be audible after 10pm.

Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter