I’ve had some interest this week here and on Twitter regarding the apparent nationwide side-stepping by Shell of Section 176 of the licensing act which is designed to prevent petrol stations from selling alcohol. It seems that Shell are applying for premises licenses at a number of UK sites using the argument that their petrol stations are actually shops which happen to sell petrol. A recent application in Lichfield was granted, as was one in Portsmouth and an application in Pool-in-Wharfedale, is being opposed by police.
Shell are arguing, using Barristers at the committee meetings that their petrol stations are actually primarily convenience stores where sales, measured either by turnover or profit (whichever suits the situation it seems) are higher on non-fuel than they are on fuel. The committees are then reminded that in the event of a refusal, Shell will appeal to a Magistrates Court and then, if necessary, to the high court, all at the potential cost to the council and hence the taxpayer.
A case in the high court, Murco Petroleum Limited v Bristol City Council clarified the fact that regardless of these sales figures and calculations, the decision regarding the primary business of the premises still rests with the Licensing Committee.
What Shell are doing is not illegal under the current legislation as “As a matter of law, trading figures can be used to determine the issue of primary use under Section 176 (Green v the Justices for Inner London). ” (Quoted from the Walker Morris article linked to above), however it appears, in my opinion at least, to be bullying councils with the threat of huge legal costs if they don’t get their way.
On a side note, if the sale of fuel is so unprofitable for Shell, and selling booze is so important to them, perhaps they’d be better off running a chain of corner shops instead?
I’ve posted a couple of press cuttings after the break for anyone who’s interested in the coverage of the Lichfield application.