SUPERMARKET giants are exploiting Edinburgh’s loose licensing laws to “bully” their way into booze-soaked districts blighted by crime and drink-fuelled disorder, pub bosses have claimed.
And now industry chiefs are calling for a freeze on further alcohol licences in the Capital after two controversial Morrisons applications – for Gorgie Road and Shandwick Place – were narrowly voted through. Figures released by Police Scotland and NHS Lothian have shown both areas saturated with bars or off-sales and marred by anti-social behaviour.
Statistics also reveal more than one in 100 residents in both areas have been admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related illness while 80 per cent of all Capital residents are never any more than 400 metres away from an off-sales.
But despite the alarming picture, liquor licences were still being issued prompting calls for the system to be tightened up, particularly in areas over-subscribed with bars and off-licences.
Today Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, called for the shelving of all new licences for Edinburgh which he said was “massively over-provided for”.
He said: “We have been saying there should be a moratorium in Edinburgh for years because there is a two-tier licensing system in place: one for the big players who can afford to challenge licensing boards in court and another for the smaller, independent shop owner. Rules and regulations are so loose and challengeable that boards won’t take them on because they are scared of losing in court. The supermarkets are bullying them because the way the Licensing Act is worded they don’t want to go to court and look at potentially big costs in losing the case.
At Monday’s licensing summit, two Morrisons’ bids sneaked through by the slimmest of margins but were opposed by NHS representatives as well as several councillors, including Norman Cook and Chas Booth.
Cllr Booth also spoke of his “intense frustration” that more alcohol licences were being pushed through.
He said: “The evidence before us was absolutely overwhelming that increasing alcohol supply in these areas is likely to increase hospital admissions, assaults that are aggravated by alcohol and a whole host of other social and health problems.
“We had the evidence in front of us yet as a board we chose to ignore it. We are abdicating our responsibilities if we continue to act this way.”
A council spokeswoman defended the decision claiming it was “taken after careful consideration of all the views presented” while Morrisons said customers “expect to have the option to purchase alcohol with their shopping”.
In May, the News told how health experts were being continually overruled by city licensing chiefs prompting disillusioned NHS Lothian consultee Jim Sherval to shun meetings.
It was noted he had formally objected to 19 applications on health grounds in the last two years – but all of them had been granted.
Eight licences granted in a year
EIGHT supermarkets have been granted licences to sell alcohol within the last year.
April 2013: Sainbury’s on Nicolson Street and Scotmid on Duddingston Park South approved.
November 2012: Tesco on Dalry Road and Princes Street, and two Sainsbury’s in Portobello High Street and Princes Mall.
October 2012: Tesco, Stenhouse Place East and Sainsbury’s at Exchange Crescent.