KEBAB houses could remain open all night after council bosses ordered the first overhaul of the city’s late-night licensing rules in more than a decade.
A new panel has been set up to decide if some fast food joints should be allowed an all-night licence from 11pm to 5am – instead of the current closing time of 3am – which could see takeaways open around the clock.
It would allow smaller, independent food businesses to battle fast food giants for business, including the 24-hour McDonald’s outlets in the city centre.
Reports recently revealed Edinburgh has one takeaway for every 725 people – the highest ratio in the UK.
One kebab boss, who has been battling opening hour restrictions with the council via his lawyer since last year, said the radical changes would help the city’s economy and even up the competition between small takeaways and global fast food chains.
But grave concerns have been highlighted about the effect it could have on residents in terms of noise, antisocial behaviour and rubbish pollution. Critics also fear it could further fuel obesity problems.
The council last week set up a working group to decide whether the current licensing policy is outdated, and their findings will be put to the Regulatory Committee in September.
Kasim Yilmaz, whose family owns Zara takeaway, on the Cowgate, claimed the council’s late-night food policy is in desperate need of an update because bosses are already “bending the rules” for dozens of places including McDonald’s and 24-hour garages.
Mr Yilmaz, 63, whose lawyer wrote to licensing bosses last November claiming the rules were discriminatory and unfair, said: “When we try to close at 3am, which is exactly when the clubs close, we get abuse because we cannot serve the crowds outside. They come banging on the door and shouting because they can’t believe we are closing.
“Opening until 5am would be a great thing so we can serve the large amount of customers around at that time.”
But Chris Oliver, 53, a top city surgeon who lost 12 stone after he had a gastric band fitted in 2007, said encouraging eating at antisocial hours inspired an unhealthy lifestyle.
He said: “People who go to these places are likely to have been drinking alcohol all night anyway and that’s already full of empty calories.
“Obesity is a huge problem and if takeaways are going to be open that late they should at least be made to offer people information as to just how many calories they are consuming.
“Eating at 5am in the morning is never a good idea.”
Conservative City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat, who served on the Regulatory Committee between 2007 and 2012, said she felt an increase in opening hours could be “extremely detrimental” to residents in the city.
She said: “While I think the time is right for a review of this policy, and there is genuine bafflement as to the very different late-night opening hours in neighbouring streets, I feel if the council was to extend these hours it would be abandoning their commitment to those living in the city centre.”
But Ruth McKay, chairwoman of the Edinburgh branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, argued the change could mean a business opportunity for those hit by dwindling sales.
“These businesses will have been hugely impacted by the recession,” she said. “If there is trade to be had at that time in the morning, allowing them to stay open is going to help them survive.”
Council officials say the policy review is at a “very early stage” and while some takeaways may open longer, others may be subject to stricter opening hours. When asked about extending the late-night food policy, Councillor Gavin Barrie, convener of the Regulatory Committee, said: “This is one of the issues we’re looking at in our review of licensing policies.
“Our aim is always to achieve the right balance between protecting the interests of residents and having the minimum burden on the city’s businesses. In the meantime, the licensing sub-committee continues to consider each application on its own merits.”