Truce at North Walsham’s Black Swan after patio licence wrangle

Drinkers at a north Norfolk pub are raising their glasses to a trouble-free future after a truce was declared in a patio licence wrangle.

Staff at North Walsham's town-centre Black Swan were taken aback in October when a North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) officer walked in with a letter banning all drinking outside and warned of 'grave consequences' if the order was not enforced immediately, according to manager Helen Cobbold.

The visit followed a period in the autumn when there had been a rise in fights involving customers which Mrs Cobbold said had been a result of the pub becoming more popular.

But Mrs Cobbold said she and her father, pub owner Tubby Cheek, had been working effectively with the police to control the situation, had already taken on extra doormen and were planning to install CCTV when the council officer visited.

'We didn't want to risk losing our licence so we complied,' said Mrs Cobbold. 'This pub's been here nearly 400 years and people have always drunk outside. In the summer, if we couldn't let people drink outside, we might as well shut.'

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Over a period of about five weeks pub chiefs tried to resolve problems with the council which wanted them to apply for a variation on their licence to cover the patio and car park.

The situation was further complicated because both areas, and the pub's function room, are separated from the pub by a public highway, Black Swan Loke, which is covered by a Designated Public Places Order (DPPO), giving police discretionary powers to remove alcohol from people in a bid to prevent anti-social behaviour.

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There was also confusion over whether the patio needed licensing at all and Mrs Cobbold said they had finally decided to re-open it to drinkers half way through last month after further talks with the police, but without the licence NNDC said was required.

At last week's North Walsham Town Council meeting members supported the pub, calling for it to be allowed to carry on its business without further red tape.

Now, after a meeting between the pub, police and NNDC last Thursday, all sides say they have agreed a way forward.

A police spokesman said they had responded to an increase in anti-social behaviour by using powers under the DPPO and working with the pub to ensure staff recognised their duty of care. They had been fully co-operative.

The spokesman added: 'As a result of the meeting it was agreed that no glassware would be used outside after 11pm, doormen would be put in place for Friday and Saturday nights, and nights when there is regular entertainment in the function room. There has also been an assurance that patrons would not occupy the centre of the highway,' The situation would be closely monitored.

Mr Cheek said they would also submit an application to have the patio and car park included on their licence. He added: 'It all got a bit technical but I hope we're all right now.'

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