Tuesday 11 June 2013

Communion lager....

There's great excitement building up for Thursday's grand opening of the Towy Community Church evangelical bowling alley, in partnership with Carmarthenshire Council. The council have given the announcement a front page splash in the Carmarthenshire News and are pulling out all the stops. It even features in the official Civic Diary as the Chair, Vice Chair and respective consorts will be donning the chains of office and firing up the limo to attend the ceremony. Praise the lord.

I'll not go into the lengthy saga here, most of which concerns the controversy over £1.4m of council funds given to the Church which has a congregation of around 120. It can all be found by searching the blog.

Readers may remember that this project was hailed as a significant community enterprise by the then Leader, Meryl Gravell which could ease the social care budget through it's counselling services, foodbank etc, although, at the time, it appears the council had overlooked the links (now removed) to the discredited Mercy Ministries. Phase 2 of course, will include an auditorium, or a church to you and me. The previous 'Children's Champion' said in a council meeting that what every child in Carmarthenshire wanted was a bowling alley.

It has come as something of a surprise to many, therefore, to discover that the Church has applied for a licence to serve alcohol. Not just occasionally, but every day  from 10am until 9.30 at night. Even capturing the liquid breakfast trade. The Town Council were first to raise an eyebrow over this unexpected turn and next week the county council licensing committee are off for a visit.

I'm not sure exactly where the bar will be, somewhere in between the toddler play area and a counselling room perhaps. The Towy Church is a registered charity and also a registered company but for the purposes of this application it's wearing the charity hat. It is also puzzling that although the bowling alley has been described by the church as a 'separate' entity, the licence application is in the name of the Church.

The licensing application itself contains a couple of interesting objections, one from the nearest resident and one from the West Carmarthen Communion of Independent Churches. The resident makes an interesting comment regarding covenants on the land and that the Business Consortium who showed a prior interest in taking over the plot were put off after they were told these 'covenants' would never be lifted. What that was all about remains a mystery.

He also goes on to say that when the church held a consultation at the local school (close to the site) it was put forward as a safe place for youngsters to go, and people were assured that no alcohol would be available. He also makes the point that this is being run by a charity (the church), has attracted funding and does not have to pay business rates, so somewhere along the line does this not put other licensed premises at a disadvantage? Who knows.

The other objection is from representatives of over 3000 churchgoers and cites the Licensing Act 2003, 'safeguarding children from harm' and the Welsh Government Substance Misuse Strategy. Apart from seemingly at odds with being 'family' orientated, the church has been in receipt of a lot of money from the Welsh Government and the Council and the latter should exercise its duty of care to ensure that alcohol is 'not sold at a venue frequented by a high percentage of under-18s'.
One wonders whether a licence also meets the criteria of all the numerous Community and Heritage grants received by the Church.

One also wonders what the Towy Community Church umbrella organisation, the Evangelical Alliance will make of it, only last year they announced they'd be 'joining with other church groups to press for action on alcohol policy, for public health reasons, and for the benefit of local communities often blighted by alcohol fuelled social problems' They don't appear to have lodged an objection though...

The licence application can be seen here.

It remains to be seen what the Council Licensing Committee will decide, but judging by how accommodating the council have been so far with our evangelical friends, odds on it'll be passed.

No comments: