Matthew Phipps, head of licensing (England and Wales) at UK law firm TLT, explains why it is important to separate business as usual event planning from COVID-19…
Following the publication of interim guidance on festival planning on April 15, organisers of large-scale events are now in a much better position to navigate the complicated minefield that COVID-19 and particularly social distancing presents. Insurance issues notwithstanding, it is now realistic for organisers to satisfy officers with their planning and proposals.
While the Government’s roadmap suggests that social distancing could be removed as early as June 21, this depends on a number of factors and it is reasonable to presume that some management of COVID-related issues will still be imposed on organisers in July, August and possibly even September.
The guidance makes clear that it is reasonable for festival organisers and the responsible authorities (RAs) (licensing, police, fire, environmental health, public health, child protection and so on) to plan and manage COVID-related public health issues as a distinct and parallel feature of event planning.
This means it does not have to be contained within the premises licence and the licence’s event management plan (EMP). For established event organisers, the EMP and its transparent delivery to RAs in the lead up to the event will be crucial: distribute the EMP, engage in face-to-face dialogue, even if that’s on Zoom, finesse the various plans based on feedback and comment, and deliver.
A COVID plan for COVID-19
The current obligations to deliver a safe environment, predominantly through the use and delivery of a risk assessment, can become confused with premises licensing – especially as licensing officers have shouldered much of the COVID-19 enforcement, particularly around licensed premises.
But there is a clear distinction between COVID-19 and premises licence planning, most obviously with public health, which is not one of the four premises licensing objectives in England and Wales.
The guidance proposes a solution to these two distinct issues becoming conflated. Rather than attempting a COVID-19 add-on to each of the constituent elements and plans in the EMP, it suggests a separate but no less transparent and no less timely strategic Covid plan and risk assessment track. An EMP for the licence, and a COVID plan for COVID-19.
While the noise management plan for a large-scale event can be drawn up and “signed off” some months beforehand, the constantly changing nature of the virus means that coronavirus risk assessment is likely to be a live and fluid document, not just up to and including the first arrival of customers but perhaps through the event itself. Shoehorning COVID-19 into the EMP risks upsetting these established timings and also risks making the plans unworkable, inappropriate or simply wrong.
The guidance suggests a COVID-19 plan setting out broad principles that’s shared with officers, and to develop the details in the run up to the event, as the regulations and guidance are crystallised.
At the safety advisory group meetings, there will be two agenda items: the licence and the COVID-19 plan. It is also worth remembering that there are distinct and specific powers (including immediate closure) under the coronavirus legislation, which will always be at the front of organisers and officers’ minds, even if these powers are entirely unrelated to the promotion of the licensing objectives.