Sainsbury’s snubbed in bid to expand booze sales

Councillor Chas Booth hopes the ruling against Sainsbury's West Port branch will mark a sea change. Picture: Jon Savage

Councillor Chas Booth hopes the ruling against Sainsbury's West Port branch will mark a sea change. Picture: Jon Savage

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A SUPERMARKET has been banned from expanding the amount of space it devotes to selling alcohol in what is thought to be the city’s first booze licence refusal on 
overprovision grounds.

Sainsbury’s in West Port saw its bid to display beer and wine in two chiller cabinets turned down because the area is already considered to be saturated with pubs and off-sales.

Agents for the retail giant argued they were responding to customer demands for greater range and choice.

But in an unprecedented move, the board voted four to three against the bid amid fears the area was awash with alcohol.

It comes after a protracted argument over alcohol licensing in the Capital that has pitted city councillors against police and health chiefs, who have called for tighter rules governing new sales permits.

Research by NHS Lothian has revealed that alcohol provision is closely linked to consumption and antisocial behaviour.

In May, the News told how emergency services had joined together to condemn a licensing board decision to approve two new off-sales in nearby Earl Grey Street, citing overprovision as their key fear.

Then, Chief Superintendent Mark Williams – the city’s policing commander – took the rare step of voicing real “disappointment” about the move that he believed could fuel violence and antisocial behaviour.

Green councillor Chas Booth – a key supporter of beefed-up controls on the licensing board – said he hoped the latest ruling could mark a sea change in their stance on booze.

He said: “We are clear that there’s an existing over-provision in the area – if we add to it then we will be making the problem worse.

“If something is likely to contribute to overprovision then we have a duty to refuse it.”

He added: “Time will tell is this marks a sea-change [in the approach to regulating alcohol sales]. I’m optimistic that it will mean the board listens much more closely to the health board and police in future.”

The decision has been welcomed by leaders of nearby Tollcross Community Council.

Chairman Paul Beswick said: “We’re pleased – it was almost getting to the stage where it seemed there was no end to the granting of more licences.”

But legal representatives for Sainsbury’s insisted the overprovision argument did not stack up.

Elaine Brailford, speaking for the supermarket chain, said: “Even in the objection from the Tollcross Community Council, it’s recognised that it’s a relatively small increase in shelf capacity.

“In the area there’s a tiny number of sales premises with very small, restricted capacity. What we’re talking about here is increasing choice for the customer. There is customer demand for an increase. How are an extra two chiller cabinets going to create a problem that tips us into overprovision?”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com