CONTROL over pubs and off-sales in the Capital has been branded a “farce” after licensing chiefs voted to ignore health and police warnings to curb the sale of drink .
After weeks of debate ended in deadlock, licensing chiefs yesterday waved through a controversial policy governing new applications to sell booze in areas already saturated with bars and off-licences.
The new “overprovision” rules fall short of NHS Lothian and Police Scotland calls for beefed-up restrictions on the number of new licences being granted and instead identifies seven areas of “serious or special concern”, with applications for those zones to be considered on merit. The districts highlighted are Tollcross, Dalry and Fountainbridge, Southside and Canongate, Old Town and Leith Street, South Leith, Leith Docks, and Portobello.
The statement of policy, recommended by the council’s QC, is said to place the city in a stronger legal position to defend licensing decisions in court.
Figures show alcohol-related problems cost the city £220 million, blighting the health of entire communities. A report produced by the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership as part of the consultation over the new policy said that Edinburgh has more licensed premises per head than the other major Scottish cities.
But it has been argued economic factors have to be balanced in the equation, with fears a blanket ban on new alcohol licences – proposed by the Scottish Licensed Trades Association – would allow areas of the city to stagnate.
Today, Councillor Chas Booth – a vocal supporter of beefed-up restrictions – said the new policy was “not worth the paper it’s printed on” and suggested it effectively reinforced the status quo. “It is an absolute farce,” he said. “I don’t see any justification for ignoring the evidence put to us by the police, NHS and licensing forum and drawing up this alternative, it makes no sense to me whatsoever. The level of disrespect the board is showing to those organisations in coming to this decision is just staggering.
“Our policy on overprovision has previously been too weak and could be overturned in court. We had an opportunity today to strengthen that policy and we didn’t take it.”
Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy, NHS Lothian, said the licensing board’s decision was “disappointing”.
She said: “We have made no secret of our concerns about the number of licensed premises in Edinburgh and we hope that future decisions made by the licensing board will support our clinicians in their work to reduce the burden of alcohol-related harm on the population.”