Health fears brushed aside as four new supermarket stores granted drinks licences

PUBLIC health chiefs have branded a decision to let four new mini-supermarkets sell alcohol as a “major blow” in the battle to beat booze problems in the Capital.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 27th November 2012, 12:00 pm

Licences were yesterday granted to the four branches, despite objections from NHS Lothian.

Sainsbury’s can sell alcohol at two new branches at Princes Mall and Portobello High Street, while rival Tesco was given the green light to sell booze at planned stores at Morrison Street and Princes Street.

Health chiefs had called for all four bids to be knocked back as the new stores will serve areas which already have an above-average number of off-licences per 10,000 people.

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NHS Lothian public health specialist Jim Sherval, who advises the city council licensing board, said: “After the last licensing board meeting the impression was given that the licensing board policy was not significantly robust to allow for an application to be rejected on the grounds of over-provision.

“If this is the case, then it is a major blow to stopping alcohol problems in Edinburgh as availability of alcohol is influential in levels of alcohol 

Mr Sherval said he would now urge the stores to consider “pragmatic” ways of improving public health – such as reducing the size of alcohol aisles and agreeing not to sell high-strength alcohol or large ­multi-packs.

He said the number of alcohol-based hospital admissions was higher in Portobello and Craigmillar – which will be served by one of the new Sainsbury’s – than in Edinburgh as a whole. Portobello resident Diane Cairns, who objected to the application, said: “I’m wondering if I should just save my breath after what happened before lunch [Tesco’s first bid was approved].” In April this year, Sainsbury’s was forced to postpone plans to open a “Local” store on South Bridge after health chiefs objected to the application for a alcohol licence. The ban was later overturned.

City Centre councillor Joanna Mowatt, a member of the licensing board, said: “The health statistics in some areas are quite hideous.

“But there is not necessarily a correlation between the number of off-licences and the impact on health – many affluent areas have a high number of off-licences and enjoy better health.”

Green Leith councillor Chas Booth said he was disappointed at the Portobello decision because there were already 20 licensed premises in the High Street.

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We are pleased with the decision and thank members of the licensing board for backing Sainsbury’s to make a positive influence on Portobello High Street.

“As a responsible retailer of alcohol, Sainsbury’s take this role extremely seriously and look forward to now progressing with our new store, creating new jobs and bringing more choice and convenience to Portobello.”

Lawyers get decision overturned

Sainsbury’s plans for a store on South Bridge were rejected earlier this year after officials at NHS Lothian objected on health grounds.

But last month licensing chiefs dropped their opposition and allowed the firm to press ahead.

Members of the licensing board had refused the bid after hearing the Old Town area had among the highest number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the city – 168 for every 10,000 people. Police had also objected on the grounds there had been 85 crimes within a 50-metre radius of the site in the previous 12 months, including 32 assaults.

Lawyers for the supermarket argued that the incidents reported were not typically associated with a supermarket.

Licensing board convener Eric Milligan said the appeal had shown the policy was not sufficiently robust to support the decision taken.