Comment: Council must put lives before profit

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THE council is ignoring us. That is the clear message today from NHS Lothian and Police Scotland who have issued statements after Edinburgh Council’s licensing board granted permission for two new off-licences in Tollcross.

Supermarket giants Sainsbury’s and Co-op have been given the green light to off-licences in Earl Grey Street despite a strongly worded warning from both bodies. The police, in particular, have made it clear that over-provision of alcohol in the area is fuelling crime and antsocial behaviour.

The message now is simple: the decision by elected members in the City Chambers will result in increased crime and disturbance.

Tollcross already has the second-highest rate of alcohol-related crimes in the Capital and incredibly has one off-licence for every 500 people.

This is certainly not the first time that a local authority has ignored the views of a health board and police commander. However, it is extremely unusual for both bodies to come out afterwards and voice such levels of frustration.

Licensing boards are required by law to assess the extent of overprovision of licensed premises in an area. Licensing chair Eric Milligan has claimed the committee “work closely with the police and health professionals to tackle antisocial behaviour”. Mr Milligan perhaps needs to listen more carefully.

Of course, supply is not the only issue. Alcohol is also far too cheap.

The SNP government is looking to push ahead with minimum pricing for alcohol. A law paving the way for a preferred minimum price of 50p per unit was passed in June 2012, but its implementation has been delayed by legal challenges.

What is clear now is that overconsumption of alcohol imposes substantial health, social and financial costs, not only on the drinker, but on families, friends and communities, including many people who do not drink. The council needs to put lives before profit.