Belfast bars and hotels outside the city centre are being given a trial period until January 31 on new licensing regulations allowing the sale of alcohol until 2am.
Bars outside the city centre will be allowed to serve drinks until 2am, an extension from the old 1am limit, with doors shutting at 3am to include the new one hour drink-up rule.
However, it will only apply for the Christmas and new year period with a temporary model agreed by the council to allow members to monitor the effects of the changes on local residents.
City centre bars will be permanently allowed to serve drinks until 2am, and close at 3am, without the temporary provision.
At Belfast Council’s Licensing Committee meeting, elected representatives voted not to object to applications from pubs and hotels outside the city centre to serve alcohol until 2am, provided they agree not to “provide entertainment” after that time.
The council also agreed the condition they would not object to 2am drink serving as long as the bar withdraws its application beyond January 31, making the decision an effective trial.
The decision applied to all except those premises where the provision of entertainment had been “subject to significant objections or prosecution in the past.”
Council officers will give the Licensing Committee an update next February on any issues which have arisen from the operation of all premises that made the application before January 31.
Most city centre bars have an entertainments license until 3am, while the majority of bars and hotels outside the city centre only have entertainments licenses until 1am.
New legislation introduced in October allowed pubs and hotels everywhere in Northern Ireland to apply to serve drinks until 2am up to 104 nights per year, and to extend drinking-up time from 30 minutes to an hour, with the net effect that premises with the correct entertainment licenses would not close until at least 3am.
The new changes also include all additional restrictions on opening hours over Easter weekend being removed and opening hours on Sunday evenings falling in line with other evenings.
At the Belfast council committee meeting it was agreed there would be no objection to city centre pubs making applications to serve alcohol to 2am, with a 3am closing time, providing they have an entertainments license until 3am, and depending on the location and proximity to residential areas and other considerations.
However after receiving two applications for premises outside the city centre, Biddy Duffy’s, on Andersonstown Road, and Horatio Todds, Upper Newtownards Road to serve alcohol to 2am on Saturdays and other selected nights, councillors decided to give all non city centre establishments a temporary trial period on the new regulations.
The council report states: “Whilst most city centre pubs have entertainment licences to 3am, this does not always extend to every night of the week and for pubs located in residential areas many of them only have entertainment licences to 1am.
“As a notice party to Article 44A extension applications the council should be sensitive to potential nuisance issues for local residents, particularly where there have been objections to entertainment licences in the past and restricted licences arising.
“However, it is also the case that these applications must be published in local newspapers and a notice displayed on or near the premises thereby providing local residents with the opportunity to make their own representations to the courts on any applications for later hours.”
The committee agreed to a proposal put forward by Sinn Fein Councillor JJ Magee, taken from four options provided by council officers.
Green councillor Brian Smyth said: “We are in new territory here. I know around Horatio Todd’s is heavily residential, and I have concerns. But we don’t want to be hammering the hospitality industry, which is already on its knees, and I think we should give this a chance.
“We should come back and take a look at this in a couple of months, and see how things are panning out, and we can get feedback from residents, police and the venue itself.”
DUP councillor Tracey Kelly said: “Having entertainment going on until 3 o’clock in the morning very close to people’s properties is just a bit too much at the moment, but I think we should give premises a fair chance and see how it goes.”