Licensing chief challenges booze research findings

Parts of the city are awash with drink outlets. Picture: Julie Bull
Parts of the city are awash with drink outlets. Picture: Julie Bull
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New city-based research claiming alcohol-related illnesses and deaths are significantly higher in neighbourhoods with more licensed premises today reignited the debate over the Capital’s approach to booze.

The report by Edinburgh and Glasgow University researchers concluded that “each increase in outlet availability was associated with a higher death rate”, with off-licences considered to have the greatest potential for harm.

The researchers compared the number of alcohol outlets with the number of alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths recorded across 6,505 neighbourhoods in Scotland.

In Edinburgh alcohol-related deaths more than doubled in areas awash with bars and off-licences, with 31 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people in neighbourhoods with the most outlets, compared with 13 per 100,000 people in those with the fewest.

Cllr Eric Milligan, convenor of the Edinburgh Licensing Board, said: “The most important thing with regards the problems caused by alcohol is to encourage people to be responsible for the amount of alcohol that goes down their throat, rather than focussing on side issues like where people go to purchase alcohol and how many outlets there are.”

Edinburgh has more outlets than Glasgow – which historically contained “dry” areas where alcohol could not be sold – yet it has worse problems with alcohol, he argued.

Cllr Milligan, who had not read the report before it was published, said he was “a sceptic” about choosing one main cause for alcohol-related illness, citing cost.

“People don’t live in geographical boxes. They will go to bars in the city centre or buy alcohol to drink at home,” he said. “There are areas in Edinburgh where there are very few licensed premises and there are still problems with alcohol.”

He added: “All public bodies have a responsibility to help but individuals have a responsibility for themselves as well.”

However, disregarding the geographical spread of alcohol sales was a “serious oversight”, according to Dr Elizabeth Richardson, from Edinburgh University’s Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health.

Dr Richardson, who worked on the report, said: “The role of local neighbourhood environments in enabling drinking has received little attention in Scotland to date, but our findings show that this is a serious oversight.

“The strong relationship we found between alcohol outlets and related health outcomes leads us to suggest that reducing outlet numbers, particularly in the highest availability neighbourhoods, could have health benefits for the Scottish population.”

The research was commissioned by Alcohol Focus Scotland, who urged licensing bosses to consider the report.

Chief executive Dr Evelyn Gillan said: “If we want fewer people to end up in hospital or lose their lives because of alcohol, then we have to be concerned about the high number of alcohol outlets in our neighbourhoods.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com