EDINBURGH will fight any change to its liberal attitude towards on-street drinking, city leader Andrew Burns vowed today, amid growing concerns of a “Glasgowfication” of the new single police force.
Cllr Burns has pledged to protect the Capital’s distinctive “light touch” approach which he sees as a “massive part of the Capital’s appeal”.
He is worried the Glasgow stance – where a ban on public drinking is vigorously enforced – could creep along the M8 and spoil what has become for thousands a popular part of city life and an important part of the city’s appeal to tourists.
His warning follows widespread concerns about an apparent crackdown on the city’s sex-for-sale saunas and an on-going row about community policing which has seen the council threaten to cut funding to Police Scotland.
It came as Police Scotland said it would enforce “wherever and whenever appropriate” a city by-law which allows officers to confiscate alcohol and fine people drinking in public.
Police chiefs say they are responding to residents’s concerns about alcohol-fueled anti-social behaviour, but Cllr Burns fears the effects of any crackdown that fails take proper account of the so-called Continental approach to drinking outdoors that has developed in many of the city’s tourist hot spots.
In 2007, new rules to restrict street boozing were introduced in Edinburgh as part of a campaign to curb antisocial behaviour, but under its terms Lothian and Borders Police agreed not to stop people drinking peacefully in the streets, parks and squares. In contrast, Glasgow went the other way and has a complete ban on all public drinking, which is often rigorously enforced.
Cllr Burns said alfresco drinking is a vital part of Edinburgh’s successful festival programme – which has recently seen open-air bars extended to George Street – and something integral to the city economy.
He said he would be “concerned” if the city’s approach to drinking came under threat , saying: “The drinking by-laws are a massive distinction between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Just look at this city last month when it was heaving with people drinking on Royal Mile, the city centre and look what we did on George Street where we built extensions out on to the street from the bars.
“There were hundreds of thousands of people drinking in public in Edinburgh. I would certainly be concerned about it if it was to be [changed].
“Look at Edinburgh’s economy, we have literally just extended [the Festival] into the New Town this year very successfully. Overall, it’s very economically successful.”
He added that public drinking is not without its problems but “in the main it’s a massive part of Edinburgh’s appeal”.
Asked if he would be reluctant to see a Glasgow-style crackdown on drinking, Cllr Burns replied, “of course”, although he added he was unaware of any such plans at the moment.
Police Scotland, however, spelled out its determination to step up action against drinking in the streets and a force spokesman said they “will use all legislation at [their] disposal to tackle offences that frequently impact upon communities”.
He said: “Following engagement with the public across Edinburgh, antisocial drinking and associated disorder was identified as a concern for many residents and businesses and, in response, officers have invoked an existing city by-law as one of a number of tactics to address this matter.
“The by-law will be enforced wherever and whenever it is appropriate to do so. Local communities have identified this issue as a priority for Police Scotland and it is important effective action is taken to address it. Anyone found to be in breach of this legislation will be appropriately dealt with.”
The council leader’s stance has been backed by Assembly Rooms Fringe director Tommy Sheppard, who developed the Famous Speigelterrace concept for George Street.
Mr Sheppard said any attempt to ban boozing would be like “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
He said: “I think it’s vital for Edinburgh. Having the ability to take refreshment outdoors very much enhances the cultural and social offering of the city. If we didn’t have it then Edinburgh would be at a severe disadvantage compared to other European capitals.
“You don’t find too much antisocial behaviour in outdoor terrace cafes, to be honest, and so if anyone does want to look at the unwanted side-effects of excessive drinking they need to look elsewhere from the restaurants and visitors to Edinburgh enjoying themselves in the sunshine.
“If you even advanced an idea like this in Paris of Barcelona, you’d be laughed out of town.”
Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said on-street drinking should be confined to licensed areas outdoors to control excessive boozing and antisocial behaviour.
He said: “We don’t want people walking around the streets with cans they bought in a supermarket. I don’t believe that’s what tourists or the people of Edinburgh want to see and the problems associated with that.
“When you have people standing in outside areas smoking and drinking, that doesn’t look good. We are trying to control alcohol, we do have a problem with off-trade drinking and I think Edinburgh should look very closely at that. Is that what tourists want to see? I don’t think it is. They don’t mind it in licensed areas but it can spill out into difficult situations.”
Glasgow v Edinburgh: How booze laws compare
IN 2007, city chiefs introduced new rules to restrict drinking on the Capital’s streets by allowing police officers to impound alcohol where there is “reasonable suspicion” downing it will lead to antisocial behaviour.
Any person who consumes booze in a designated place, and fails to stop when asked by officers, can be fined. Drinking can also be prohibited within designated areas or trouble spots where repeated antisocial behaviour occurs.
However, as part of this, Lothian and Borders Police agreed to use their discretion and not stop people quietly enjoying a tipple in the city’s streets, parks and squares. This is in direct contrast with Glasgow where a blanket ban on public drinking was put in place in 1996.
Those found drinking in public can receive a £40 fine while those who refuse to stop face arrest. The crackdown came due to the number of street assaults and breaches of the peace related to hard drinking and the use of beer bottles as weapons.
Leeway is offered to New Year revellers.
POLICE carried out two waves of raids on city saunas in June –just two months after the switch to a single police force covering the whole of Scotland.
Critics immediately feared a move away from Edinburgh’s long-established pragmatic stance on the sex industry.
Police chiefs said the raids – which also involved fire crews, immigration agents and tax inspectors – were planned long before and insisted there was no change of policy. But politicians including Independent MSP Margo Macdonald have continued to protest against the raids amid continuing concern over their impact on the Capital’s sex workers.
CITY leaders are set to cut the cash they put into community policing because they claim officers are being deployed elsewhere.
Council chiefs plan to cut £500,000 from a £2.7 million fund, saying they now had “no influence” over how officers were deployed. Inverleith Labour councillor Lesley Hinds said: “We noticed a massive difference in north Edinburgh in antisocial behaviour when this first launched in 2003, with police working with schools, schools working with housing officers, and all working on the same cases. If that is no longer the case then should we pay?”
Stop & searches rise
THE use of police stop-and-search powers on Edinburgh’s streets has increased dramatically.
Statistics show officers in the Capital stopped and searched 8259 times between April and June this year – well up on the 4706 for last year.
The rise sparked fears “Strathclyde-style” policing was being imposed on Edinburgh under the new Police Scotland regime. Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “We do not set targets which relate to the quantity of stop-and-search in Scotland. We don’t do that, we absolutely do not want those kind of target at any level.”