THE DEVIL’S TAPHOUSE: Objectors to new plans received social media abuse
A Stafford taphouse boss has been granted permission to sell beer from a new shop on the same street – but objectors have said they received abuse on social media after speaking out against the plans.
The 23-year-old, who previously ran The Bear in Greengate Street, said there were no objections raised when he sought a licence for his taphouse.
But two nearby businesses, Couture Leisure Ltd and Express Curtains, raised concerns about the premises licence application for the shop and the matter was considered by the council’s licensing sub-committee on Friday (April 23)
Steve Whitehouse, one of the directors of Express Curtains, told the committee of the reaction to the objections on social media.
He said: “After I put my objection in it became apparent that on the Facebook pages of The Devil’s Taphouse and The Devil’s Bottlehouse it was announced we had put in objections. This resulted in quite a bit of defamatory comment and abuse regarding Express Curtains and Couture. Some of them were quite explicit.
“One post put on the Taphouse (said) ‘Head down mate, let the process take its course, councillors aren’t stupid. They can spot knobheads from 8.4 miles away. I went toe to toe with some neighbours and made the papers. We won through, after we got the application through I killed my neighbours’. That is a post you can imagine is quite upsetting, especially when it refers to neighbours.
“We did contact Facebook and we had them removed from The Devil’s Taphouse but we never got them removed from The Bottlehouse. This is trial by social media and I’m not happy with it.”
Mr Whitehouse added there were concerns about the use of two parking spaces at the rear of the premises.
“We have those two parking spaces and unload and load most days”, he said. “If they have any deliveries or collections it’s going to disrupt our business.
“As you all know there are quite a few public houses round that area. There’s even an off-licence opposite the newsagents.
“I have got concerns and the council has granted a PSPO (Public Spaces Protection Order) in that area. Now we’re looking at trying to set up another off-licence there.
“It is going to become a drinking area round there and we have had problems at Express Curtains. Most Saturday mornings and Monday mornings we end up cleaning the front of the shop, which is not nice.”
Nick Parkinson from Couture Leisure Ltd, which runs a nightclub in Newport Road, told the hearing he was taken aback by the social media activity in response to the objections. He said: “It worries me that someone like that would have a licence in the town centre.
“An off-licence, particularly near a premises like ours, must be very responsible. There’s every chance we are going to end up turning people away from the venue. Are they then going to go outside his venue, congregate and drink alcohol on the street?
“That’s the crux of our objection and then there’s the access issue at the back. He’s currently got no fire exits and this all relates to the car park issues. Without that fire exit I don’t see how that premises could operate.
“It’s to do with the serving of high-strength alcohol, late at night in a town centre, and the exit onto our land which would be a car park behind the proposed off-licence.”
But Mr Taylor said that Mr Whitehouse’s objection was a personal one, following arguments and issues relating to the rear parking area. He questioned why premises licence applications for other venues within 50 metres of the area had not been objected to.
Mr Taylor added: “I have had issues in the past with Mr Whitehouse and Couture Leisure. I believe these objections are a personal vendetta against myself. I’ve been told nasty things and I’ve had my car blocked in.
“We took legal advice on the Facebook pages. As the documentation for this committee is public, available on the council’s website and anyone can see it, our solicitor advised us we could place a post on Facebook.
“But I must confirm that we did not at any point make defamatory comments ourselves regarding Couture or Express Curtains. I can also confirm that post has been taken down.”
Councillor Ann Edgeller, who chaired the hearing, said: “The trouble is with Facebook we all get things said on there that are not pleasant.”
Fellow panel member Councillor Ray Sutherland said: “The situation regarding Facebook is always a difficult one for all of us in the public domain. All you can really do is ignore it or take it to the police and ask Facebook to remove it.
“It really is a sad situation to hear businessmen in the town bickering the way you are. There is no need for personal comments.”
Mr Taylor told the committee that despite the application requesting alcohol sales until 11pm the shop was set to have an earlier closing time of 6pm or 7pm.
He added: “We have not asked for a fire exit at the back and we have consulted with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. The area at the back of our shop is a staff area and leads onto the front area where a fire exit leads onto Newport Road safely.
“I have a fair experience of ensuring all licensing objectives are kept to and I have run the Devil’s Taphouse for coming up to a year with no problems at all. When I was at The Bear we didn’t have any issues with licensing.
“We believe there is a gap in the market in Stafford town centre and most of the products we sell are canned and bottled products, along with items for home draught machines. These items come in rather large containers that can’t be consumed on the street.
“Most of the cans and bottles we sell are not in ones and twos, they’re not your average Stella Artois or Budweiser. They’re craft products, they’re a little bit more expensive and are for more of a discerning taste. We don’t sell cheap alcohol and none of the products we will be selling are high-strength.”
Words: Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter
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