Hastings bar wants to shift image away from being a last-stop drinking spot

Councillors are considering the future of a Hastings bar, following calls from police to cut its hours and install new management. 

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 11:27 am
Crowleys bar in Hastings
Crowleys bar in Hastings

On Wednesday (June 23), a Hastings Borough Council licensing panel discussed an application from Sussex Police to review and alter the licence of Crowleys, a bar on the corner of Havelock and Devonshire Road.  

First submitted in March, the application called for the bar to have its hours cut, its licence suspended and its Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) to be removed, due to concerns around violence, drug use, excessive drunkenness and breaches of coronavirus restrictions.

The hearing had originally been due to take place in April, but due to a combination of factors it was delayed several times, with further discussions taking place between police and the business.

As a result, the two parties had largely come to an agreement on the correct way forward. The business agreed to take on a number of stronger conditions, while police took back calls to suspend the bar’s licence (as it had been closed since January).

The main remaining disagreement was over the bar’s new hours of operation. While the business had agreed to cut back its normal operating hours (from 2am to midnight, Thursdays to Saturdays), it asked to retain a later licence for live music events on Saturday nights (up until 2am at latest).

Police said it would not object as long as such events were pre-arranged and limited to no more than twice a month, but the business argued this would be too restrictive.

Peter Savill, a barrister representing Sussex Police, said: “Police say two events a month is a way in which the premises management can show that events can be run without causing problems and slipping back into the old ways.

“Of course it is the case that, in the event the premises be used and put on these events without difficulty, there is scope for variation. Police would be open minded if not receptive to such an application.

“Police are simply not saying ‘no, forevermore’, but the police case is there needs to be a period of time in which we can see that the improvement is sustained and we do not revert to the way things have been.”

This improvement period would be at least a year, police representatives said.

However, a different view was put forward by Chris Grunert, a solicitor acting on behalf of both the bar’s premises licence holder Abbas Bostanabad and its operator Innovate Leisure Ltd, a company run by the former DPS Alan Naylor and his brother Michael Naylor.

Mr Grunert argued that the intention behind the events was to shift the bar’s image from a last stop, late opening drinking spot to a music-focused venue. He said holding the events every Saturday would help achieve this and could be done without disruption. 

He said: “Police are not rolling a dice on this. They would not agree for a toddler to use a carving night twice a month, that is just not going to work out. They must see that we could, in theory, do these events without causing issues. If we can do it twice a month we can do it once a week.

“If we don’t have that regular event, we think, as operators, we will find it difficult to shift the persona of the premises across and get that loyal week-after-week customer coming back. A karaoke night at a venue or a live music event once a month does not make that venue a live music venue.  

“We feel that the frequency is important to re-establish and move away from premises that might have had the reputation of being the last drink in town before you go home  to a place which is an arts centre for live music.”

As part of this, Mr Grunert said, the bar would ensure the events were ticketed and that police were notified at least two weeks in advance. 

A more difficult area of dispute was the role of Alan and Michael Naylor in the business.

In their initial application Sussex Police had called on the licensing panel to remove Mr Naylor as DPS and to have a say in naming a successor. However, Mr Naylor had himself stood down as the DPS in February.  No replacement has been named at time of publication. 

While this appeared to have resolved the matter, the panel heard during the meeting that Mr Naylor (together with his brother) would be the new DPS’s employer and would retain some involvement in running the business.

This was not acceptable to Sussex Police, which, through Mr Savill, urged the panel to consider adding a condition preventing both Alan and Michael Naylor from being involved in the day-to-day running of the business.

Mr Saville said: “The role of the DPS is fundamental. It is the person with day-to-day control of the premises. He or she must be free to do as he or she thinks fit in running the premises. He or she will be accountable and can be removed on a review application. But the DPS must be autonomous for the command structure to work. 

“The difficulty here is yes, you cannot remove Mr Naylor as DPS because he has resigned, but this is something of a sidestep by putting Mr Naylor and his brother in an employment role over the new DPS, whoever that may be, essentially in a command structure above DPS. 

“That is of real concern to the police because the concerns they had about the management of both Messrs Naylor hasn’t gone away.”

This argument was strongly disputed by Mr Grunert, however, who argued that any DPS would be given proper autonomy and no such condition would be necessary.

He also pointed to both Mr Naylor’s and Bostanabad’s record in running other premises in the town over many years.

He said: “These are businessmen, employers, taxpayers and people who have contributed to this town, in the case of [Mr Bostanabad] for more than 30 years, and have not been people who have persistently been seen as issues.

“The past 18 months or so of the premises are not what we take pride in, but we would like you if you could to look at it in the context of a long career and whose these people are, not simply say this is an issue that cannot be addressed and turned around.”

After hearing from both parties, the licensing panel closed the meeting to consider its decision in private. The outcome is expected to be published within five working days. Any decision will be subject to appeal at the magistrates’ court.