‘The chaos of Camden Town feels like Dante’s inferno – yet we still have to pay a levy’

FORUM: Why do take-aways escape the levy but pubs have to pay?

Friday, 22nd October 2021 — By Henry Conlon

henry conlon

Landlord of the famous Dublin Castle pub HENRY CONLON explains why he thinks the night time levy is unfair

ASTONISHMENT and shock is often my feeling.

I’m certain that Camden Town residents also feel great embarrassment as tourists and visitors wander from the tube station towards our markets. We have such a unique place to visit especially if you wish to shop for something quirky to show off back home.

Sadly, the truth remains that from the moment you leave the steps of Camden tube station you must negotiate the peril of the street population and drug dealers either begging for money or selling drugs.

I accept that the street population are part of our community. But they obviously are not receiving the care and services which we all pay towards.

Imagine a parent’s shock, with children in-hand, returning from primary school as they are confronted with these ordeals on a daily basis.

What must a tourist think on a family day out to our colourful shops, restaurants and markets.

The meandering route to the markets is more  like entering Dante’s inferno for the less streetwise and more innocent parent.

Instead of enjoying a pleasant visit, parents may find themselves protecting their children’s ears and eyes from blatant drug-dealing. Camden Town’s reputation is being tarnished. This is bad for everybody. Like Hadean rivers, the dealers snake along with the pavements all the way to the Stables Market.

These devils shamelessly ply their drugs to the young and old. It makes little odds to the pushers if you avoid making eye-contact as they’ll even call out to you, as if by remote chance you didn’t know they were present.

In the meantime Camden Council are gathering to review their licensing policy.
Our local councillors shall decide whether to continue the late night levy which is imposed against bars and clubs which are open past midnight.

These are the same bars and clubs where safety is enforced, where drug dealers and anti-social behaviour is never tolerated by the trusty landlady or licensee.

Visitors are welcomed and the licensee will do their best to ensure the guest may have a safe and enjoyable experience to hopefully return again another day.

They truly support the Camden Town brand of being a unique and unusual place to visit.

The late night levy was introduced by Camden Council specifically to pay for additional policing of pubs and venues which dared to provide hospitality past the midnight hour.

Despite those hostelries being closed for the best part of 15 months Camden Council still chose to demand payment for this policing provision. This is despite there being no bars open due to the pandemic. As the late night policing service wasn’t used the levy should be refunded to the publicans as a matter of fairness.

Camden should demonstrate this fairness and consider forgiveness to those licensees who couldn’t pay or have struggled whilst their business was closed.

Instead they threaten enforcement, in some cases, with the suspension of the premises licence.

Despite the pubs and venues being closed, violence, stabbings and crime soared upon our streets. It seems there is far less crime whilst there are more eyes and ears on the streets around our venues.

The residents associations’ proclamation that all the crime was down to late night bars was found to be untrue. Later bars mean safer streets.

There has never been such an unjust taxation as the late night levy. Other local authorities have cancelled it altogether.

Camden Council charges this single sector of business for a service that it didn’t supply. The late night levy police team had nowhere to patrol as the bars were shut.

Meanwhile the off-licences and supermarkets that sell alcohol to the Street population and to the thousands of teenagers who make their way to Primrose Hill can operate levy free. We have several dozen take-away and fast food outlets who tempt customers with a promise of gastronomical delights.

But the reality litters our streets with discarded kebabs and rotting pizza. This debris is yet another hurdle for our residents and visitors to trek over, whilst negotiating away from the drug dealers.

Take-aways and off-licences have a huge negative impact upon our living environment they are the source of major contributions to the anti-social behaviour that residents’ associations love to complain about. Yet these operate without any late night levy.

So the next time you walk the now perilous route around Camden tube station – please spare a thought for the bar owners and venue operators that have striven to operate their businesses responsibly.

Consider if they should continue to be targeted unfairly with the late night levy.

Should Camden Council unfairly pass judgment to keep this levy or should they banish it to the flames that resemble the hell-hole that’s permitted to scorch all of our lives every day?

• What the council says:

“CAMDEN’s world-renowned pubs, bars and venues have faced significant challenges since the first lockdown. Supporting them during this challenging period – and providing vital additional funding wherever we can – has been a priority for the council.

“The late night levy is a statutory fee set out in legislation. This means that the council does not have the legal powers to suspend it or vary it. It also means that it is separate to our licensing policy, which we are currently consulting on with businesses and residents to ensure that it is fit for purpose as the borough recovers from Covid-19.

“However, I want to reassure all of our late night businesses and residents that every penny raised through the levy is being reinvested and used to continue providing important services to Camden’s evening and night-time economy as it begins to thrive once again. This includes vital policing that is helping to reduce anti-social behaviour and keep residents and visitors to the borough safe.

“Ultimately our efforts have been focused more towards providing financial support to businesses. More than 19,000 grant payments totalling £86.3m have been paid to over 5,000 hospitality businesses in Camden to support them and their staff throughout the pandemic and we are continuing to provide restart grants, with an additional £22M already provided to the sector.”

Cllr RICHARD OLSZEWSKI, Cabinet Member for Finance and Transformation

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