New licensing laws due to come into effect later this year could see the shutters coming down on village hall bars across the West Midlands, critics have claimed.
One in three village hall trusts in South Worcestershire believe fundraising events and wedding receptions will have to be cancelled because of the cost and complexity of the Licensing Act 2003, which is due to come into force in November.
Representatives from 13 village halls, across Worcestershire, attended a recent meeting about the imminent changes to the law, chaired by Mid-Worcestershire MP Peter Luff (Con), at Bishampton Village Hall.
An action group has been set up because halls say the social life of villages will die out when the cost of a licence becomes too high, and because there is too much bureaucracy, and people are asked to take on too much responsibility.
Under the new rules, village halls have to opt for a permanent or temporary licence to sell alcohol. The permanent licence could cost more than £500 in the first year. Last year, the cost was £27. In a survey of village hall trusts, 85 per cent said the new fees were extortionate. For a hall to have a permanent licence under the new rules, a 'responsible person' must volunteer to be a licensee. But Roger Ockenden, chairman of the village hall trust in Bishampton near Pershore, Worcestershire, said no one wanted the job.
He said: "You would be responsible for every event where alcohol was sold whether you were there or not. No one in their right mind would take on the task." A cheaper and less complicated option is to apply for temporary licences.
These will be priced at £21 each plus the cost of advertising the licence, but each village hall will be limited to maximum of ten licences.
Each temporary licence lasts for up to four days, but a hall can only be licensed for a maximum of 15 days per year, and if the bar is kept open past midnight, that counts as two days.
Mr Ockenden said: "At our hall last year we had 31 events where alcohol was on sale. Next year, we might have to say 'no' to 21 of those events. How will we choose?"
Peter Charlesworth, of the village hall trust in Bishampton, believes the law will have a huge impact on village life.
He said: "We have events like murder mystery evenings, 1970s discos, dinner dances and the like that raise lots of money for local schools, the playgroup, the Brownies, the Church - the list goes on and on. This red tape will strangle village life and cause financial hardship."
Rupert Segar, a local campaigner against the new licensing laws, said the Licensing Act was brought in to tackle the anti-social effects of binge drinking in city centres, but few, if any, villages had the same problem.
When the Licensing Act comes into force, a permanent licence for a village hall trust will cost £180 per year, plus an advertisement in the local paper. In addition, the licensee will have to be trained at a cost of £350. The current cost of the licence is just £27 a year.