Music and cinema venue Mareel will have to apply each time it wants a late licence, members of the licensing board decided this week.
The venue’s provisional licensing hours will be from 11am to 1am all week, including on Friday and Saturday nights, and not 2am as its application had proposed.
The late night licence had been applied for to be used for club nights, when the venue will host DJ nights and other dance acts.
It was feared that allowing Mareel a late licence would not do enough to change attitudes towards drinking in the isles which, it was felt, already has a poor reputation for irresponsible drinking.
SIC environmental health service manager Maggie Dunne said that clarification would be required over exactly when the venue would be run as a club.
She also said she had concerns relating to how “temporary displays of alcohol” would be used and required more clarity.
The issue was cleared up by director of Shetland Arts Gwilym Gibbons, who explained that these would mainly be in the form of a trestle table selling drinks at events such as classical concerts, or festival style events, where having more than one bar area would help to avoid a crush at the bar.
This, he said, would help to moderate people’s drinking as they tend to buy smaller rounds when they can get to the bar more frequently.
Representing the police, inspector Eddie Graham said that, due to its location on the edge of town, a late opening could actually help to disperse crowds more quickly and discourage large groups of people meeting in one place.
While this could pose a challenge for the local force this would be something for them to work out.
Leading a campaign against the venue, however, was councillor Gary Robinson.
He said he could see “no justification” for the venue having a licence, adding that it “can’t have anything but a negative effect on the already poor drinking reputation of Shetland”.
He said: “My concern with this is that we have local bona fide nightclubs … we had problems with publicly funded cafes before and I can see this causing just as much problems.”
He argued that these premises had their 2am licences due to “grandfather rights” and said he didn’t want to be “dictated to by south DJs”.
Mr Robinson said: “I wouldn’t want to see the board driven by the vagaries of some DJ that’s come up from south and wants to play from 12am to 2am; on this occasion I’m not hearing any justification.”
He added: “We need to keep a grip on this – there is nothing to say that any event will be of national or even local significance.”
Representing Mareel, solicitor Linda Knarston asked the board to consider that these events would be held at most around once a month, and that from an administrative point of view applying for individual late licences would cause “a lot of unnecessary hassle to the board and the applicant”.
Imposing conditions on the venue would be one way of dealing with some of the concerns.
She said: “The venue wants to provide a wide range of events which are likely to attract people from all over the isles. This will be a critical element to that success.”
Councillor Andrew Hughson also had concerns about the timeframe and suggested that acts are scheduled to play earlier.
He said: “I do wish Mareel every success but there’s an opportunity to change the culture of drinking in Shetland which is something the board struggles to do.”
Mr Gibbons said that the venue required a late licence to allow big name acts to be booked. The issue was that the majority of headline acts will play between 12am and 2am, he said, and not about trying to cram in as much drinking time as possible.
Miss Knarston referred to an email the applicant had receieved from a promoter. It said that in their experience, people attending club nights which did not have a late licence would simpy leave early in order to get into venues open until 2am.
Despite convener Josie Simpson moving a motion for the late hours to be approved, the vote was lost 2-3.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Gibbons said: “We’re pleased that we have now got a provisional licence in place for 1am for the venue. Clearly the board feel that we need to come forward for occasional licences for nightclub activity for 2am licences and that’s what we will do.
“Most of your club DJ acts, particularly the headline acts, will look to be onstage at 2am and that will be part of their contract, to play between 12 and 2am, so despite what some elected members feel about how you can just pull that forward that is not how the rest of the world works, unfortunately, and it’s actually really part of the experience of going out to a club night.
“If we want to have the quality of events and move things forward then we need to operate with a 2am licence and it would seem that the board haven’t quite identified with the experiences of other parts of the UK which operate in that way.”