24 November 2020 14:33
A "CHAOTIC" Bexhill bar will be able to reopen under new management, following a recent licensing hearing. In a decision notice published on Friday, a Rother District Council licensing panel has confirmed the Devonshire Bar and Lounge, in Devonshire Square, will be able to keep its licence and reopen in March next year. The panel said it had come to its decision as a result of Gino Forte, the bar's owner, volunteering to close the premises for refurbishment and remove designated premises supervisor Sokol Kapllani from his post ahead of a hearing held earlier this month. The decision has been welcomed by Sussex Police, which had called for the licensing review due its concerns around "disorder, assaults and ongoing drug use" at the bar. Inspector Olivia Carroll, of the Hastings and Rother Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "This has been ongoing for a number of years and despite raising our concerns with the premises licence holder, no improvements have been seen.
"We would always prefer for premises licence holders to work with us to identify and address any issues, and we will always look to support them with this. Initially, Sussex Police had been calling for a temporary closure of the bar as well as significantly shorter opening hours and the removal of Mr Kapllani from the bar's management. But as the hearing began, councillors heard how police and Mr Forte had come to an agreement on an alternative way forward, following a voluntary closure and the removal of Mr Kapllani as leaseholder. As a result, Sussex Police had called for Friday and Saturday opening hours to be cut back from 2am to 1am, rather than a reduction from 2am to midnight as initially sought. This was agreed as long as the bar introduced a new last entry condition, meaning no new customers would be allowed to enter the premises after 12.30am on these nights. Police did not call for reduced opening hours on other nights, with the bar allowed to stay open until midnight, but with a last entry condition of 11.30pm. Cllr Bayliss had urged the panel to cut back the bar's opening hours as originally suggested by police, even if just on a provisional basis. A spokesman for the councillors said: "The panel was satisfied that the review application was the result of the chaotic manner in which the premises had been managed over the last five years, at the hands of Mr Kapllani. "They were satisfied it had been justifiably subject to the review application and that it had clearly galvanised Mr Forte into action. "The panel was satisfied however, on balance, that he could have done so earlier had he paid more attention to what was happening at the premises; given it appeared to be common knowledge amongst local people, according to the evidence of Cllr Bayliss. "The panel was reassured that the police and officers believed the measures offered a template for Mr Forte to make the premises work for the benefit of the town, subject to his direct management control as the future DPS. "They were equally re-assured that should Mr Forte fail to honour the assurances he made to the panel throughout the hearing, that the police would not hesitate to bring a second review." Cllr Bayliss said: "I'm pleased the panel applied tough new licensing conditions and with Mr Forte's direct involvement in running the Devonshire I'm hoping things will turn around and that the bar can become a safe and welcoming place for locals and visitors alike. Sussex Police submitted an application to Rother District Council to review the licence of The Devonshire Bar and Lounge in Devonshire Square due to concerns around levels of crime at the venue. Since January 1, 2019, police have received 110 calls relating to incidents at the bar and recorded 51 incidents including violent crime and sexual offences. On Friday (November 20), Rother District Council's licensing panel published a decision notice which said The Devonshire Bar and Lounge could keep its licence and reopen in March next year. After deliberation, the panel agreed a number of changes to the bar's licence. Rother District Council agreed to limit the venue's sale of alcohol to midnight Sunday to Thursday, and to 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar will also introduce a last entry condition, meaning no new customers would be allowed to enter the premises after 11.30pm Sunday to Thursday, and after 12.30am Friday and Saturday. Sussex Police also requested a change in management at the venue, and for the bar to close for at least eight weeks while the changes are embedded. The premises licence holder voluntarily dismissed the previous management and temporarily closed the venue prior to the review hearing. Inspector Olivia Carroll, of the Hastings and Rother Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "We submitted the application due to serious concerns over continued disorder, assaults and ongoing drug use within the premises. "This has been ongoing for a number of years and despite raising our concerns with the premises licence holder, no improvements have been seen. We felt there was no other proportionate course of action other than a review of the premises licence." Sussex Police's application was supported by evidence including a number of visits to the bar where drug swab results showed high levels of cocaine use. Police also provided evidence of the 110 calls received relating to The Devonshire and the 51 recorded incidents including violent crime and sexual offences. Inspector Carroll added: "We would always prefer for premises licence holders to work with us to identify and address any issues, and we will always look to support them with this.