Hillingdon Council has refused an application from McDonald’s to open a new branch 24 hours day after it was judged it could become a “magnet” for antisocial behaviour. The fast food chain was trying to get a licence that would allow it to open a new outlet in the Old Dairy on a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week basis.
More specifically the licensable hours the company were looking for were to serve ‘late-night refreshment’ from 11pm to 5am every day which on top of their normal opening hours would make the restaurant a 24 hour spot. However, plans for this were vehemently opposed by a number of residents with over 300 signing a petition calling for the licence not to be granted.
There were also 54 direct objections to the plans which included 3 ward councillors. Most seemed to be deeply concerned that the 24 hour nature of the fast food joint would invite a risk in the uptick of public nuisance from visitors, as well as noise from deliveries and littering.
Leo Charalambides, the barrister representing McDonald’s, laid out the chain’s case in a convincing fashion at first, citing the company’s commitment to ensure the area around the restaurant would be well-lit, have plenty of CCTV and would be clean due to litter picking efforts that would be scheduled four times a day. He also mentioned that McDonald’s often uses its surveillance technology to create profiles of antisocial individuals which it hands to the police.
He also sought to quell concerns about noisy delivery drivers clogging up the streets at all hours of the night by assuring the panel that there was an alternative pick-up point at the back of the store in a covered car park.
Mr Charalambides added that he believed the food spot would make a “positive impact on the local area” with a “well-lit, well-run store”. Naturally, the chair of the sub-licensing committee Cllr Roy Chamdal had some questions for the McDonald’s rep.
He pushed him on the matter of litter and noise. Mr Charalambides admitted that “quick service restaurants do produce litter,” but reiterated that efforts with litter picking would mitigate this fact with McDonald’s willing to create a map of areas staff would clean up that extended far beyond the parameters of the premises.
In terms of noise within the restaurant, he said that the appropriate measures had been taken to ensure it wouldn’t be an issue for residents in Arla Place and Dolomite Court. However, the slick presentation turned into a strained back and forth as Mr Charalambides and Cllr Chamdal discussed concerns around patrons, crowd control, antisocial behaviour and dispersal of customers.
Many residents as well as Cllr Steve Tuckwell, of South Ruislip ward, raised concerns about customer parking including if the late-night venue would attract more people to the nearby Asda car park, which has become well known for antisocial behaviour. When asked what route he believed customers might take to McDonald’s Mr Charalambides questioned its relevance to the application stating he was “very confused” to be asked but said that they would drive or take public transport.
He also expressed that it was not in McDonald’s power to control customers once they had left the shop nor was it its legal obligation. When asked how it would curb antisocial behaviour inside the store, Mr Charalambides said there were micro-adjustments that can be made to make people more compliant.
One of the things he cited was the type of music the store played. “If you play classical music they will leave, if you play pop they will stay,” he said, before adding: “I was sceptical too but I have been on enough site visits to know it works.”
When pushed on the potential side effects of the McDonald’s being open 24 hours – the only business of its kind in the area – Mr Charalambides was deemed to be “dismissive”. He told the panel that the company has not reached out to any residents in the process of making the application something that would come back to bite them later.
Representations were made by locals from Arla Place concerned that a business with all day and all night opening hours would encourage people who would normally not have come to the area to congregate. During his sizable contribution to the debate, Cllr Tuckwell added that the Asda car park, the most likely place that people would congregate in the area, was raided by police last night (Sunday, July 9) with more than 100 officers in attendance.
He also said that after hosting consultations with residents with his fellow councillors he found that the 24-hour McDonald’s was vehemently opposed, stating that residents “came out in droves to ask us to oppose the license”.
Lynne Kauffman, speaking on behalf of St Mary’s Church, made a representation saying that she had been to a McDonald’s and seen the attempts to curb antisocial behaviour in the restaurant fail. One of the methods cited by Mr Charalambides was the use of a PA system to tell unruly customers to leave or calm down, this is something that Mrs Kauffman said she witnessed failing to work in another one of the restaurants.
The lengthy meeting then took an interval, after which Mr Charalambides raised a point of concern to do with a member of the panel, Cllr Janet Gardner, who sat next to her councillor colleagues who opposed the plan. In response, Cllr Gardner said she has a bone disease which requires her to move around and was only sitting to rest before she went back to her seat at the panel.
The barrister then seemed to get audibly irritated with Cllr Chamdal’s questions about how a 24-hour McDonald’s might be responsible for increasing the risk of public nuisance saying that he had asked a question the “wrong way”.
After a gruelling meeting lasting almost 3 hours with an additional hour and a bit for the decision to be made, the application was rejected. Cllr Chamdal said that concerns over antisocial behaviour had made up the councillors’ minds.
He said that it would there was “a high risk that it would act as a magnet to people that otherwise not be in the area”. The chair added that he and the rest of the panel had felt that McDonald’s had been dismissive of important areas of concern, citing the lack of consultation with residents and the representation’s attitude during the hearing.
McDonald’s now has 21 days to challenge the decision in the magistrates court.