The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Tuesday 1st August 2006 - Licensing red tape 'in danger of throttling sport'

In a press release entitled 'Red tape in danger of throttling sport', published on 18 July, the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) cited high licensing costs among its key concerns:

'Despite government assurances that sports clubs would only be marginally affected by the [Licensing] Act, some clubs are reporting costs of more than £1000 to get a licence. Some are even paying licensing costs at levels comparable to those incurred by pubs and wine bars.'

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Under the old licensing regime, an alcohol licence cost £30 and lasted three years. Annual entertainment licence fees varied considerably, although in rural areas they were often lower than new the annual 'inspection' fees for medium- to large-size bars. See DCMS fees tables:

But sports clubs could face more costs if they provide dancing entertainment on the sports ground or pitch itself. Many, if not most, sports grounds will not have a premises licence that authorises music and dancing on the playing area. This problem came to light following reports of a Chinese Lion dance at Sheffield United's ground during half-time at a match on 30 April 2006:,,10418~823895,00.html

The pitch was not licensed for dancing and Sheffield City Council was uncertain whether the Act's morris dancing exemption would apply.  On 9 May the Council announced that it was advising not just Sheffield United, but all sports grounds to vary their licences if they wished to have on-pitch entertainment. Sheffield United subsequently made a variation application. The fee was £635. Additional costs include 28 days advertisement in the local press and probably legal fees.

The Council is not claiming eye-watering additional charges set out under the Fees Regulations where a premises capacity exceeds 5,000. The basis of the Council position is a convoluted exemption that applies if the premises is 'a structure which is not a vehicle, vessel, or moveable structure; and has been constructed or structurally altered for the purpose, or for purposes which include the purpose, of enabling- (i) the premises to be used for the licensable activities the applicant proposes the licence should authorise...'. [see The Licensing Act 2003 (Fees) Regulations 2005, Part 2, Premises Licences, para 4(5): ].

This raises the sort of questions which keep lawyers in business for years: is a football pitch 'a structure'? Even if it is, could it be said that it was 'constructed or structurally altered' in any sense to enable on-pitch dancing?  Definitive answers are unlikely in the short term, so the Council's position is arguable, if unproven.
According to the Football Licensing Authority (FLA), 40-50% of its 92 premiership or football league grounds have 'cheer-leading troupes' for some or all of their matches. Majorette-style dancers are also popular at Rugby Super League games - the same dancing that was deemed licensable by Trowbridge Carnival Committee last month, and which led to the 'banning' of a local majorette troupe:
By contrast, the Notting Hill Carnival street dancers have been granted the morris or similar dancing exemption by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC). The exemption only allows unamplified live music to accompany the dancers, however. If the dancers are accompanied by recorded music, then a premises licence or Temporary Event Notice is required. But what if the recorded music is on a moving vehicle - entertainment on moving vehicles is exempt, after all.

'My advice to the dancers would be "don't dance to the beat of the recorded music"', said one expert licensing lawyer, tongue in cheek of course.


Hamish Birchall