Council theatre bar denied bid for ‘lock-in’

Picture This 27/04/09 The Church Hill Theatre, Morningside
Picture This 27/04/09 The Church Hill Theatre, Morningside
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ACTORS bidding for a “lock-in” at one of the Capital’s best-known theatres have been unanimously slapped down.

Staff at the council-owned Church Hill Theatre in Morningside applied to extend their daily licensed hours until 2am after pressure from performers.

Cast and crew pushed for the increase because they wanted to be able to “spend time together socialising after the evening’s performance”, it has emerged.

But the plan was given “short shrift” during a meeting of the city’s licensing board last week – as police slammed what they branded a “legal lock-in”.

Managed by the Assembly Rooms, the Church Hill is one of Scotland’s leading amateur theatres and occasionally hosts professional actors.

In an official objection which it “urged” board members to refuse, Police Scotland noted that lock-ins were banned by 2005 licensing laws and associated with problems such as staff being drunk on premises and drink driving.

Board members were also quick to criticise the proposals and expressed disbelief that senior members of one of the city council’s own departments seemed to be unaware of 
current policy. Councillor Nick Cook, Conservative member for Liberton and Gilmerton, said: “Police made clear that the council were effectively applying for a legal lock-in at Church Hill Theatre.

“The issue here is that a key council department appears to have demonstrated a shocking lack of awareness of the city’s own licensing board policy.”

He added: “Both the board and the police were clear that we felt the application to be wholly inappropriate. The board rejected the application unanimously.”

Based in a B-listed former church building in Morningside Road, the 353-audience capacity theatre was converted in the 1960s.

As well as being home to many of the city’s amateur companies, the Church Hill is a popular venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Cllr Chas Booth, Green member for Leith, who also sits on the licensing board, said: “It did seem to be that the reason they were giving for asking for the later hours was for the staff and performers at the theatre.

“But the licence is not there for the benefit of the staff and performers, it’s there for the general public – if there’s no demand from the general public, I don’t see why we should extend their licence. If the ­performers want a drink they can go out to a pub or club just like everyone else.”

A spokeswoman for the Church Hill said: “It is not uncommon for customers hiring our facilities to request after-show parties which go beyond our current licence, which is why an application was made. We fully understand the licensing board’s decision.”

A city council spokeswoman added: “The licensing board consistently looks at all applications fairly and objectively, and without bias. The views of bodies such as Police Scotland are also considered.”