The venue continues to operate. Credit: SCC

Big date looms in Leadmill battle

An application from owner MVL Properties 2017 for a shadow premises licence at the much-loved Sheffield venue will be heard in September.

MVL submitted its shadow licensing application in April, which if granted would allow the business to step in should the current licensee depart for any reason.

Sheffield City Council’s licensing sub committee will decide on the application at its 18 September meeting.

The future of the Leadmill has become a hot topic since spring 2022, with the long-term tenants and operators of the venue pitched against MVL, which bought the building in 2017 and last year pushed forward plans to operate the venue itself.

In April 2022, the Leadmill’s operators issued statements claiming “our landlord is evicting us” and that “it is the hardworking, dedicated and local family of staff that have put 42 years’ worth of their blood, sweat and tears into making it the cultural asset it is today”.

MVL is a vehicle set up by Electric Group, which operates venues including Electric Brixton and SWX in Bristol. The group opened NX Newcastle in September 2022.

Responding last April to the outcry in Sheffield, chief executive Dominic Madden said “we are music people, we spend our lives running independent music venues and the Leadmill will continue to run as a special music venue”.

Recent months have seen the venue push on social media for more support at the September hearing, using the slogan “Battle for the Soul of Sheffield” while Madden has talked of how, had Electric not stepped in, the site could have been been turned into flats.

Steering a neutral course, Cllr Tom Hunt, leader of Sheffield City Council, said last week: “The Leadmill is an iconic venue that has played host to brilliant gigs and club nights and has supported Sheffield’s best musical talent.

“As Leader of the Council and as a Sheffield resident, I know how loved The Leadmill is by many people and I understand the strength of feeling. The council is a champion of our cultural industries and nighttime economy but we cannot directly intervene in the legal process taking place between the Leadmill’s landlord and tenant.

“The council does not own the building but over the last year, we have engaged with both parties and remain willing to do so. However, we must balance this with allowing the normal licensing processes to happen as they usually would.”

Cllr Hunt has drawn criticism from the Leadmill and its supporters for not proclaiming support for what is undoubtedly an iconic venue for the city, its best-known venue and part of the backstory of local success stories such as Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, with the #TellTom hashtag gaining some traction on social media.

The leader continued: “As a statutory Licensing Authority, the council has a legal duty to be fair, unbiased and treat each licence application the same. When the application for a shadow licence for The Leadmill by MVL Properties 2017 Ltd is heard, it will be treated impartially and in exactly the same way as every other application that the council deals with. It is essential that the Council’s words or actions do not influence the legal process.”

A shadow licence application was submitted for The Leadmill on 26 April 2023 by MVL, with a consultation period running until midnight 24 May 2023.

Over that period, 205 submissions were made, although some were dismissed for not directly addressing any of the four core licensing objectives.

Shadow licences explained (source: Sheffield City Council)

What is a shadow licence?

Premises at which entertainment and certain other activities, including the sale of alcohol, are provided are required to be licensed under the Licensing Act 2003. A premises licence is valid for the life of the business supplying alcohol and/or regulated entertainment.

The term ‘shadow licence’ is often used to describe a premises licence which is granted to a second party when a premises licence is already in place for a venue. A ‘shadow licence’ does not impact the terms of the original premises licence; it would allow the second party to run the venue under that ‘shadow licence’ if the original premises licence were to be revoked or surrendered.

Does a shadow licence impact an existing premises licence?

If a ‘shadow licence’ is granted, the venue will remain open and continue to operate under its usual licence conditions. It would mean that the owners of the building would be able to operate the venue under the conditions of their ‘shadow licence’ if anything were to happen to the current premises licence.

Why would a landlord want a shadow licence?

A ‘shadow licence’ may be granted where a licence is already in place for a premises. It is common for a ‘shadow licence’ to be sought when a venue is operated by a tenant who holds the premises licence. The landlord may wish to apply for a ‘shadow licence’ for the premises in order to safeguard the venue in the event of the tenant’s licence being revoked, surrendered or lapsing. The ‘shadow licence’ ensures a premises remains licensed and can continue operating.

How is the application for a shadow licence assessed?

When considering an application for a premises licence, including a ‘shadow licence’, the committee makes its decision based on the promotion of the four licensing objectives:

  • Prevention of crime and disorder
  • Prevention of public nuisance
  • Public safety
  • Protection of children from harm.

These are the only grounds on which the decision can be made. The sub-committee must consider whether the application promotes all of the licensing objectives or imperils one or more of them.

What happens if the shadow licence is approved?

If a ‘shadow licence’ is granted, it gives its holder permission to carry out activities under The Licensing Act 2003 at the address the licence covers. It does not affect the conditions of the existing licence.

Providing that the existing premises licence is not revoked, surrendered or allowed to lapse due to insolvency or death, and subject to payment of the annual licence fee, the holder of the existing premises licence can continue to operate.

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