Councillors look to put a cork in new off-licence requests

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A BAN on any more shops selling alcohol in Edinburgh is being considered, the Evening News can reveal.

The “radical” move comes as city licensing chiefs look at ways to cut down the availability of cheap drink in the city.

A city-wide cap on more off-sales premises, which currently stands at 412, is one of the measures being considered.

It is estimated that 79 per cent of the Edinburgh population above the age of 18 live within 400 metres of a shop where they can buy alcohol.

Campaigners have backed the move, but representatives of the licensed trade say that the measure will cost jobs.

In a consultation document, licensing chiefs say that there is an argument that the whole city may be “overprovided” with off-sales.

The proposal has come forward after NHS Lothian and the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership raised concerns about the number of licensed premises in some areas.

Licensing officials believe that a cap on new licences could be imposed across the city, rather than in specific locations, as “a substantial number of individuals are travelling within the city to purchase alcohol”.

Aileen Keyes, policy and campaigns manager for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “The proposal threatens to prevent responsible new premises from gaining a licence and creating jobs in Edinburgh whilst restricting choice for responsible consumers. It will do nothing to tackle irresponsible licence holders or alcohol-related harm.”

Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said: “The board seems to have taken a decision and then consulted on it, which is the wrong way around.”

However, alcohol expert Jonathan Chick, an honorary professor at Queen Margaret University, backed the proposals. He said: “The general availability of alcohol is a causal factor in the social and health harms of alcohol and when the number of outlets increases there is likely to be more discounting to keep ahead of the competition, and the matter of price is something that a lot of investigators think is very important.”

Jennifer Curran, head of policy, research and communications at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “We need to shift the focus away from individual ‘problem’ licensed premises, to managing the overall availability of alcohol. We welcome this strong statement from Edinburgh licensing board.”

Councillor Marjorie Thomas, the city’s licensing leader, said: “The board is consulting with a number of stakeholders to establish if the approach to licensing off-sales in Edinburgh requires radical overhaul.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com

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