You can say what you like about JD Wetherspoon (I prefer the cosy local) but there’s no doubt its super-pubs are popular – with 900 UK branches, more than 50 in Scotland and eight in Edinburgh.
And people certainly know what they’re going to get – relatively low-cost drink and pub grub in a big venue. As the price of a pint rises steadily, a well-managed pub that can offer a few quid off has its appeal.
But, advert over, all this comes at a heavy cost to the smaller publican who just can’t compete with the buy-in-bulk, sell-it-cheap super-pub. As with supermarkets and small grocers, the super-pub is in real danger of squeezing out the independent. Indeed, this area of the Southside, where the latest super-pub is proposed, is very well served by a handful of great small pubs.
And the JD Wetherspoon occupation of Edinburgh hasn’t been without controversy – the Standing Order in George Street appeared without opposition because it slotted right into the city centre environment, but the takeover of the Picture House music venue on Lothian Road met with opposition.
In the case of the New Empire bingo, this isn’t an established music venue being ousted, but surely there’s an opportunity there for development that would contribute far more to the neighbourhood and the community.
The Southside is a vibrant bustling, diverse residential, shopping and cafe area but it has its problems. In the last few years street drinkers, moved on from the Tron Square, took up residence in Nicolson Square, presenting a challenge to the community and the police.
Also, the police have in the recent past had to run operations along the Nicolson Street corridor to combat on-street crime. I really can’t see how introducing a very large, low-cost alcohol pub is going to help. In addition, many residents will be concerned about late-night noise.
Even if planning permission is granted, this super-pub will still need a licence to sell alcohol. Although the majority on the city’s licensing board has hit the headlines recently for granting licenses in the face of advice from the health service and the police, I hope they would take seriously the Edinburgh Alcohol & Drug Partnership stats that compared with Edinburgh as a whole, the Meadows area has both higher than average pubs sales and off-sales along with more than 50 per cent more alcohol-related crimes.
Tomorrow, councillors will debate the ruling coalition’s progress on its 53 pledges, one of which is to “work with health, police and third sector agencies to expand existing and effective drug and alcohol treatment programmes”. Green councillors will say that as well as treatment, tackling over-provision of alcohol could be a far more effective approach.
• Steve Burgess is the convener of Edinburgh’s Greens and councillor in Southside & Newington