Tesco criticised as application for off-licence rejected

Sat, Feb 12, 2011, 00:00

TESCO’S CHARACTER has been called into question and doubts have been cast over its bona fides by a District Court judge who criticised the retail giant this week for the way planning and off-licence applications have been made by it or on its behalf.

In a ruling which could have implications for any future applications for off-licences which Tesco Ireland makes, Judge Mary Collins of Dublin District Court rejected an application for an off-licence at the former ESB showrooms in Temple Bar, where it plans to open a shop on the basis of the retailer’s character.

As all Tesco licences are applied for under one name – Tesco Ireland – the finding that it was not of sufficient character to hold a licence could make it difficult for it to make applications for new licences and could even place existing licences in jeopardy as they come up for renewal.

Tesco declined to comment on the judge’s ruling other than to say it would be launching an appeal.

While the District Court hearing focused on the new Tesco store on Fleet Street, Judge Collins expressed annoyance with the manner in which the retailer had handled a number of planning and off-licence applications.

Last summer Tesco applied for planning permission for the new Temple Bar store and, at the same time, made a court application for a declaratory order entitling it to a drinks licence once planning permission was granted.

There were no objectors to the application for the drinks licence and it was granted by Judge Collins, pending planning permission.

Despite objections to the planning application by Temple Bar Traders and other retailers in the area, it was approved by Dublin City Council and, at the end of last month, it was granted on appeal by An Bord Pleanála.

The planning board also approved the retailer’s application for its proposed off-licence.

Earlier this week, however, in Dublin District Court, Temple Bar Traders and others succeeded in an objection to the granting of the off-licence certificate.

This week’s objection was made on four grounds: the character, misconduct or unfitness of the applicant; the unfitness or inconvenience of the new premises; the unsuitability for the needs of persons residing in the neighbourhood and the adequacy of the existing number of licensed premises of the same character in the neighbourhood.

At the hearing, Judge Collins said the only objection she could entertain related to the character of Tesco as no application had been made at an earlier stage in connection with the other three objections.

According to a legal note of the proceedings seen by The Irish Times, Judge Collins described it as “disturbing” that Tesco had “an intention to make various applications in the hope to defeat prospective objectors”.

She was “mildly annoyed that an application be made to this court and that full facts in relation to planning not be disclosed” and described the “manner in which Tesco have applied in the past” as “of grave concern”.

She said Tesco had shown a “total lack of bona fides in making such applications. Is it such that the character of the applicant is in such doubt that the application should be refused?” she asked.

Judge Collins said if she had had any indication how Tesco had conducted planning applications when she was ruling on the declaratory order for Fleet Street, in Dublin city centre, she would have refused it until full planning had been granted.

“Was it granted erroneously – possibly? Having granted it, I deprived objectors of their right to object on other grounds other than character. I find it very hard to grant this application today, therefore I refuse it.”