Objections to two new licensed premises have been lodged by police in a fresh test of Edinburgh’s under-fire alcohol controls.
A new bar and a supermarket in the West End – an area saturated with off-sales outlets and pubs – have applied to sell booze but Police Scotland have called for their bids to be denied.
The move comes as licensing board convener Councillor Eric Milligan defended the city’s record on accepting applications for the sale of alcohol in new venues.
He warned that rulings by the licensing boards in Edinburgh and Glasgow had been overturned in court and said matters of liquor licensing were often “far more complex and sensitive than they sometimes appear”.
Only three new alcohol licences which were opposed by Police Scotland have been approved by the board in the last two years, he said.
The controversy centres on whether there are too many bars and off-sales outlets in parts of Edinburgh and the potential impact that is having on antisocial behaviour.
Superintendent Matt Richards, one of Edinburgh’s senior police officers, previously criticised the views expressed by Cllr Millgan, who has insisted there is “no direct connection” between the growth of licensed outlets and levels of antisocial behaviour.
The police chief said anyone responsible for licensing who refused to acknowledge the link was “failing in their responsibilities”.
Today, in a letter to the Evening News, Cllr Milligan highlighted how the board sought legal advice after a Sainsbury’s bid to sell alcohol on South Bridge – an area designated for overprovision – was overturned in court.
He said: “This was a complex case, but our legal team advised us to walk away as we were certain to lose in a test case.
He also pointed to a successful legal challenge by BP in Edinburgh and Glasgow after being refused permission to sell alcohol in local petrol stations.
Lawyer Jack Cummins, who edits the Journal of Scottish Licensing Law, said licensing boards were “restricted” when denying some applications because overprovision was not yet a sound legal basis to reject.
“For licensing boards to take decisions on overprovision, they have to have some sort of sound evidence base,” he said.
“The evidence they have at the moment doesn’t reach the level of dependability where they can start making decisions. That’s what Cllr Milligan is saying: the evidence they need isn’t there.
“That’s probably why Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he is going to make it easier for licensing boards to tackle overprovision. At the moment, there are restraints on them.”
But Alcohol Focus Scotland said ten local authorities across the country had imposed overprovision rules, which allowed them to reject applications.
Chief executive Dr Evelyn Gillan said: “Recently published research shows that neighbourhoods in Edinburgh with the highest number of licensed premises have alcohol-related death rates more than double those with the fewest
Chief Supt Richards, whose criticism sparked the row, said: “Police Scotland has objected to three new licence applications since the revised board policy was adopted in November 2013. Despite objections, all of these were granted. We maintain that there is a link between overprovision and antisocial behaviour, particularly over the weekends.”
Plans for a superpub in a former porn cinema and bingo hall in Nicolson Street have been thrown out by planning officials.
Pub chain JD Wetherspoon, which was seeking permission to turn the former Classic cinema and Empire bingo hall into a giant bar, has had its request rejected.
Planners said the 4000sq ft pub, over two storeys, would cause “an unacceptable increase in noise, odours and disturbance having a detrimental effect on nearby residents”.
No-one was available for comment at JD Wetherspoon. The firm is seeking to turn two other sites, in Victoria Street and at the former Picture House in Lothian Road, into pubs.