Gareth Hughes, a licensing specialist with the law firm Jeffrey Green Russell, and a former solicitor with Westminster Council, said the proposed one-year phasing-in period between licensing magistrates relinquishing control of pub, bar and restaurant drinks licences and local councils taking over was "far too short".
Speaking at the Restaurant 2002 conference in London, organised by Martin Information, Hughes said the transfer "will probably result in chaos in many areas." One big worry was how local councillors would find the time to sit on the new local authority licensing committees, when many were already complaining of overwork, he said.
Another fear was that the White Paper on the planned new Licensing Bill semed to indicate that local residents could object to a licence at any time. A third worry was that a clearly judicial function was being handed to local councillors from magistrates, which was "entirely wrong".
Trevor Watson, a director at the property consultancy Davis Coffer Lyons, told the conference that the proposed Bill looked likely to reduce operators' flexibility, as they would have to submit a new operating plan and get their licence reconfirmed if they wanted to change from, say, a winebar to a pub/restaurant.
The likely introduction of capacity limits on all licensed premises was also a worry, he said, as some existing pubs and bars might find themselves seriously over-rented and subsequently unsaleable.
The power of local residents was going to be greatly increased under the proposed Act, he said, and this would put pressure on commercial areas away from residential area, and give existing residential premises a premium.