An application for a full review of the premises licence for Faith in Strangers in Cliftonville has not been granted following a lengthy hearing today (February 17).
Thanet’s Environmental Protection officers had applied for the review in light of noise complaints from residents living above the premises. However, this request was withdrawn on December 9 “as further appraisal of the evidence has indicated that there is not a public nuisance emanating from the premises as evidence has only been gathered in one premises which does not meet the definition of public nuisance.”
In a fractious hearing before Thanet council’s sub licensing committee representations were heard for and from residents, with South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay speaking for some of the residents, and from Faith in Strangers legal representation, owners and district councillor Rob Yates.
Statements were also heard from the council’s environmental team despite protest from Sarah Clover, representing Faith In Strangers, that the entire hearing was not lawful due to the application being withdrawn.
Residents at Cliftonville Court, comprised of 12 flats above Faith in Strangers, said noise from music at the venue was a ‘public nuisance.’
Represented at the hearing by Christopher Rees-Gay of Woods Whur, residents said that Faith in Strangers had changed from a private members club with co-working spaces to a ‘nightclub’ with the noise of bass “travelling through the building.”
The committee was told the site was open “later” with “more disturbance and more revellers” and “residents cannot enjoy a normal home life, even watching TV has been impossible.”
Owners of the flat directly over Faith in Strangers, Georgina Powell and partner Beth Pritchard said they had registered noise of 50 decibels in their home with music and clear up noise going on until 3am.
The couple said they have had to delay IVF treatment because of the conditions and had diverted all their savings into legal fees.
Georgina added: “There are 12 families in Cliftonville Court being driven out….We are bearing the mental, emotional and financial cost.”
Mum-of-two Rosie Mae Deal said the music could be felt through the floor of her one and three-year old boys’ bedroom with the greatest effect on her oldest boy who is autistic.
Resident Jackie Davis, in her 80s, added: “It’s the noise. I am all for entrepreneurism but this is beyond the pale.”
Craig Mackinlay said the outcome of the hearing could decide whether the homes residents “love and enjoy will be worth what they paid for it or worth next to nothing.”
He added that 100db – which he said the speaker system was capable of – was equivalent to the noise of a jet taking off.
But the committee was also told that the application for review and a noise abatement order issued by environment protection officers had been withdrawn due to impact only being agreed on one property which was not enough to equal public nuisance.
The committee was told there have been further complaints since the notice and review application were withdrawn and the team would continue to investigate reported incidents.
The request from residents was for conditions to be imposed including a cut off time of 11pm, replacement of hand dryers with hand towels, removal of live music and a noise limiter fitted in the venue.
Miss Clover, for Faith in Strangers, said the venue -at the site formerly occupied by Franks nightclub and historically the Starlight Club- had been granted planning permission and a premises licence in 2018 and the soundproofing work was not only signed off by Thanet council but ”effectively designed” by the authority.
She said business owners Jeremy Duffy and Richard Randles had spent in excess of £50,000 on noise isolation alone and the sound proofing works had been approved by Thanet council twice through both planning and licensing.
She added: “This is a lawful use of this site, going back many years even before Faith in Strangers moved in,” adding that the committee was receiving “no representations from planning and no representations from the police.”
Faith in Strangers owners Jeremy and Richard said the venue offered cultural, artistic, community and business support activities and had supported PoW (Power of Women), Our Kitchen On The Isle Of Thanet (food charity) and others for free.
In their statement they said: “These activities are a strong part of the businesses artistic and social ethos, however, they do not generate revenue to enable the business to operate. Faith In Strangers’ main income is generated by bar sales on a busy Friday and Saturday night.”
They explained that smaller speakers were spread throughout the venue rather than having one large system so that music could be heard by customers even though it was played at a lower level.
They disputed any change to the way they operated with Ms Clover saying music events had always been part of the business plan and not everything being levelled at the venue “has been reasonable.”
They received backing from ward councillors Alan Currie and Heather Keen and district councillor Rob Yates.
Cllr Yates spoke at the hearing saying he had used the co-working space and attended events at the club and the venue had installed sound proofing, employed door staff, closed off the balcony area after 9pm and was installing new hand-dryers. He added that if one resident could force a licence review “other late night businesses across the area will feel nervous.”
Mr Duffy said an 11pm cut off time and other suggested conditions on the licence would “be the end of us.”
He said: “We have put nearly half a million in the property, it was a derelict site.”
After deliberations the committee, chaired by Cllr Sam Bambridge, said although it had been a “difficult decision” and “competing interests” were recognised steps could not be taken to place conditions on, or revoke, the licence because the application for review had been withdrawn.
Instead it was suggested “all parties collaborate” to resolve the issues and if that failed then another licence review application could be made.
Following the decision Cllr Yates said: “This is a win for late night businesses across Thanet. I feel sympathy for the residents directly above the club, however this location has always been a venue with music and I am glad it is due to remain one.
“Faith in Strangers has worked with the council from day one, their licence and planning applications were reviewed closely with TDC officers; their licence application did not receive objections from residents when it was applied for, and today the council put in writing that “there is not a public nuisance emanating from the premises.”
“The venue is very much part of the Thanet community and I am glad that now this ordeal is over the business owners can focus their attention on more art and community events.”
Mr Mackinlay said of the decision: “I am furious for Cliftonville Court residents who had to endure and pay for legal representation across a four and a half hour licensing committee meeting which came to no proper conclusion. It determined, in summary, that because of a litany of foul-ups by Thanet District Council, the hearing was not a legitimate one and in the absence of TDC bringing one properly in the future, residents would have to initiate a private action under the Licensing Act.
“On my part, I was pleased to make robust representations on behalf of my local residents whose lives are being adversely affected by the weekend late-night noise coming from the Faith in Strangers nightspot which has morphed from being a widely supported community work and art space into an unwelcome full on late-night drinking club.”