Higher PI awards for lower returns

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The recent trend for Irish theme pubs will be at the centre of an important licensed industry dispute scheduled for the High Court in October.

Mr Justice Collins gave Philip Cropley, director of leading West Country theme-pub chain, Lionheart Inns, permission to seek judicial review of an Exeter Crown Court decision. The crown court had backed an earlier decision by Teignbridge licensing justices to refuse Cropley a provisional on-licence for an Irish theme pub, Porter Blacks, at the former Liberal Club in Newton Abbott in Devon.

Cropley's counsel, Ian Glen QC, told Judge Collins the premises had been used for years as a social club serving food and alcohol.

According to Glen, when refusing a licence the Teignbridge justices said they were taking into account the physical needs of the area, as opposed to mere convenience, and whether those needs were already met by existing outlets. The local Licensed Victuallers' Association argued that Newton Abbott had plenty of public houses and that nothing new was offered by Porter Blacks.

In seeking judicial review, however, Glen said no new licences had been granted since 1961 although the town's population had risen by 30 per cent. He said the possible closure of rival pubs because of competition was irrelevant and that there was no evidence to suggest this would happen. The justices had acted on assumption rather than evidence, he added.

Glen argued that regeneration of town centres with premises like Porter Blacks could stimulate demand and be good for trade generally. He said theme pubs represented the new breed of public house, built with high investment and featuring high-quality premises with good security.

Lionheart owns 19 licensed premises including several Porter Blacks and Shamus O'Donnells theme bars.

Granting the application to challenge the licence refusals, Judge Collins ordered that the matter be heard as soon as possible after the start of the new legal term in October.