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Licences and permits

Cinema licensing

  • Cinema licensing

    We license premises used for film showings, to make sure they are suitable for use, safe and well managed.

    We also inspect premises while they are operating to ensure they meet the required standards and comply with licensing conditions.

  • Who needs a cinema licence?

    If you show films to paying members of the public, you need a valid cinema licence.

    Even if you don’t need a licence, you may still need to notify us about your film showings.

    Whether you need a licence or not, you must make sure that film showings at your premises are adequately supervised. You must also ensure that your premises comply with relevant health and safety, and fire safety legislation.

  • How to apply

    If you are applying for a licence for a new cinema, you should submit your application at least three months before you intend to begin operating. You should not show films at your premises until we issue you with a valid cinema licence. 

    Apply for a cinema licence

    You can also request a cinema licence application form by emailing or calling our licensing team on 028 9027 0650. 

    If you need advice on the application process, contact us.

  • Renewing an existing licence

    We'll send you a reminder letter to renew your licence – you must make your renewal application at least one month before your current cinema licence expires. Once you have made your renewal application you can continue to operate your premises until we notify you of our decision.

    All cinema licences are granted for a period of 12 months and are subject to standard conditions dealing with matters such as days and hours of use, Sunday showings, children’s showings and safety requirements.

    Renew a cinema licence

  • Special permissions

    Additional hours and Sunday film showings

    Standard cinema licence hours are Monday to Saturday, 8am - 1am the following morning.

    If you want to show films outside these hours (or on a Sunday) you should include this by ticking the relevant boxes on the application or renewal form.

    Children’s showings

    A child is regarded as a person under the age of 16 years.

    If you want to show films to children you should tick the box ‘Special Permission for Children’s Showings’ on your application form.

    If you are usually exempt from needing a cinema licence, or you already have a cinema licence but it doesn’t cover children’s showings, you need to notify us if you are going to show films to children.

  • British Board of Film Classification

    The council recognises the BBFC film classifications U, PG, 12, 12A, 15, and 18.

    If you intend to show a film which has not been classified by BBFC, contact us for advice.

    The council reserves the right to censor or restrict any film showings whether the film is classified or unclassified.

  • Cinema licences for a moveable building or structure

    If you live in the Belfast City Council area and want to give cinema exhibitions in any moveable building or structure such as a marquee, you will need to apply for a cinema licence.

    You should fill in the additional sections on moveable buildings or structures in addition to the main application sections, giving us details such as proposed location and land-owner consent.

    If you already have a current cinema licence for your moveable building or structure from another council you will not need another licence for it to show films in Belfast.

    However, before showing any film, you must provide us with the following:

    • seven days' notice in writing of your plan to show films and we will notify the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
    • evidence that you have the land-owner’s consent to use their land for these purposes. You must also give their contact details on the application form.

    If you want to show a film in a vehicle, whether moving or stationary, contact us for advice.

  • Documents needed

    We will need two copies of the floor plans of your premises (drawn at a scale no smaller than 1:100) and a location plan of not less than 1:1250 scale if you are applying for:

    • a new cinema licence
    • the renewal of an existing cinema licence where the premises have been altered since the issue of the last licence.

    We may request a copy of your premises Fire Risk Assessment and for larger complex premises we may also need a management plan to be submitted.

    During the application process we will inspect your premises and will advise you on how to meet the cinema licence conditions.

    If you are carrying out building works or alterations to your premises you may need Building Regulations approval. If so, we will deal with this along with your application.

  • How much does a cinema licence cost?

    Number of patrons  Fee
     Up to 200  £200
     Up to 400  £400
     Over 400  £600
     Transfer of licence  £120

    Fees can be paid by cheque, postal or money order (made payable to Belfast City Council), by cash at our office or by credit or debit card at our office or by phoning us on 028 9027 0650.

  • Timescales

    Allow at least 28 days from the date we receive your application for us to process it. We will not progress your application or carry out an inspection until we receive two copies of the floor plans of your premises.

    We consult with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service when considering cinema licensing applications and take any observations they make into account.


  • Cinema licence conditions

    Once a cinema licence has been granted you must comply with all its terms and conditions.

    Contact us for more information about standard cinema licensing conditions.

  • Offences

    • It is an offence to show films without a cinema licence unless an exemption applies.
    • It is also an offence to breach the conditions of a cinema licence.
    • Breaches of the cinema licensing legislation can lead to a cinema licence being revoked, as well as you being fined up to £20,000.
  • Cinema licence exemptions

    Occasional use

    A cinema licence is not required if you're showing films for six days or less in a calendar year. However, you must notify us (in writing) at least 14 days before the film showings.

    We will then notify Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

    Registered charity or a not-for-profit organisation

    If you can provide evidence that the films being showed are for a registered charity or not-for-profit organisation you may be exempt from needing a licence, depending on the film showing.

    You will not need a cinema licence to show films if:

    • the films are not shown for private gain - although you may charge sums to cover expenses, or
    • the main purpose of the films is advertising or providing information.

    You will need a cinema licence if:

    • the main purpose of the premises or organisation is for showing films to children, such as in film clubs, or
    • your premises were used to show a film on more than three out of the last seven days.
  • Appeals

    If a grant, renewal or transfer of a cinema licence application is refused or where terms, conditions or restrictions are imposed, you have the right to appeal our decision to the County Court.

    A cinema licence is not granted until you receive formal confirmation from us. You should not show films at your premises until we issue you with a valid cinema licence.

Contact us

For more information and advice, get in touch.

028 9027 0650

Building Control, Ground Floor, Cecil Ward Building, 4-10 Linenhall Street, Belfast, BT2 8BP

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