While it is still too early to assess the

overall effect of the smoking ban, there are indications of frustration, even among non-smoking licensees, that their honest attempts to cater for their customers are being blocked, for no good reason.

It has certainly been difficult for those town and city pubs built in the days when gardens or open spaces were never even considered. The back yard was for barrels, the toilets and little else.

I spent a few days in Brighton recently, a city with more than its fair share of pubs, incidentally, and got chatting with two local licensees about the situation. It is the planning department which proves to be the greatest stumbling block, as I predicted on this page some time back.

Even modest proposals for outside or pavement areas are being knocked back, on the grounds that it will be out of keeping with the neighbourhood. Given the fact that the city has some fine architecture from the past, and has conservation areas galore as a result, there does seem to be an attitude that if the planners give an inch, the place will turn into some kind of fairground.

The sunny spell of recent days has seen a lot more activity outside pubs, which is quite normal as the Brits grab whatever fine weather they can get. But the smoking regulations apply come rain or shine, and it seems that once again licensees are having to do heavy spadework with officials to get some concessions on awnings, parasols and side panels.

The problem is that it may not be worthwhile appealing when you are knocked back by them. It is another time-consuming process. No wonder licensees complain that they spend hours per week on paperwork.

Whatever one's views on smoking, it does seem that once again it is the licensed trade that has to stop what it does best in order to comply with regulations.