No more city pub licences, says trade chief

The head of a major pub trade body has called for a moratorium on new pubs in the city centre. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The head of a major pub trade body has called for a moratorium on new pubs in the city centre. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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BOOZE chiefs have called for a freeze on all new alcohol licence applications – amid concerns there are too many pubs in the city centre.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trades Association (SLTA), said licensing bosses should impose a moratorium on new bids to run pubs, clubs and off sales because of ­“over-provision”.

And he said powers to grant alcohol licences should be taken out of local authority control and handed to Holyrood MSPs due to large breweries exerting influence and sidestepping guidelines about over-concentration in one area.

It comes after the News revealed health experts’ concerns are being continually overruled by city licensing chiefs – and on the back of revelations developers are planning a new super pub for Rose Street – which is already clogged with boozers.

In recent years NHS Lothian has formally objected to 19 applications on health grounds but licences have eventually been granted on every single occasion. Around 20,000 alcoholics are thought to live in Edinburgh.

Jim Sherval, who advises the city’s licensing board on behalf of NHS Lothian and wrote a report into alcohol over-
provision in Edinburgh, returned to the monthly meetings after shunning them for several months when the committee once again went against his advice and allowed alcohol to be sold in four new mini-supermarkets in November – a move he described at the time as a “major blow”. Today, STLA boss Paul Waterson said it was “almost impossible” for licensing boards to block challenges by big operators and called for central government intervention.

He said: “Edinburgh is over-provided for in terms of availability of alcohol. There’s no doubt about that when you look at the figures. At the time when the last Licensing Act came in in 1976 there were around 11,000 licences distributed across Scotland – now there are nearly 15,500.

“Having so many licenced premises – especially in the off trade – creates downward pressure on price which can lead to alcohol abuse.”

And he added: “Edinburgh has over-provision rules in the Grassmarket and we think that should be extended.

“Our position is there should be a moratorium on the granting of all new licences in Edinburgh and Scotland actually.”

Kevin McGhee, who runs the Athletic Arms, said he believed the licensing board had been performing well. He said: “It depends on the area but I think they have done pretty good. Certainly up town in Rose Street, Grassmarket and Cowgate there’s over-provision there but they look at them on their merits.”

Councillor Eric Milligan, licensing board convener, defended the committee.

He said: “It seems that the people who are already in a business are the most vocal about making it more difficult for others to get into it. The licensing board considers every application for a new licence on a case-by-case basis and we look closely at a number of factors before ­deciding.”

The News told last week how ­developers are planning a new mega pub which would be sited in a former baptist chapel in Rose Street.