Proposals to approve an alcohol licence for a six-storey office block in the heart of the New Town have been put on hold after the plans “raised alarm bells” for councillors.
We Work Community Workspace UK Limited have applied for a licence for six storeys of offices above the Hollister clothes shop on George Street – including a roof terrace with “fantastic views” of Edinburgh Castle.
But the Edinburgh Licensing Board has paused the plans, which will include self-serving alcohol dispensers on the sixth floor communal area, in order for councillors to visit the premises to obtain more information.
Police Scotland raised concerns to the board, made up of city councillors, over “insufficient staff being present” to supervise the sale of alcohol and said the external terrace could be used for viewing Hogmanay and festival fireworks displays.
David Hossack, representing We Work, told councillors that people using the building will be limited to four drinks per day, per person and that the overall concept was “shared offices” with a “high quality atmosphere” to encourage networking.
George Street is in one of the licensing board’s areas of over-provision of alcohol, where applicants for new licences must make their case against a presumption of refusal.
Mr Hossack added: “There will be a very limited range and volume of alcohol to those working in this building. This is not intended to be a bar, but it is intended to let those working in the building to have an occasional drink. It’s entirely safe with two sets of barriers.
“It will be self dispensed under the watchful eye of the sixth floor communal areas teams.
“This is one of the exceptional cases where it can be demonstrated it’s quite different to the George Street area These are not public premises and security is tight. It is quite different from any other licensed premises in the city centre.”
Councillors raised concerns that a four drink minimum would not be enforceable – with dedicated staff not on duty around the clock when alcohol is available.
Cllr Derek Howie said “there’s no way of that being enforced without supervision”.
Cllr Gillian Gloyer added: “I think there’s maybe general concern about this four drink rule and how it’s enforced. If there’s a technological fix, that would reassure us.”
But the applicants confirmed the technology “doesn’t exist” for the building to restrict how much alcohol each person is served.
Cllr Joanna Mowat raised concerns about the entire office block, with a capacity of 1,100 ,being granted a licence – while the sixth floor communal area only has a capacity of 47 people.
She said: “We are looking for a 1,100 people capacity. That is a huge, huge additional capacity, potentially.
“I think this is quite a new thing. I would be very concerned about having a whole block licensed.”
The board’s own licensing officials also said they cannot support the proposals.
Tom Veitch, licensing standards officer, said: “We would not be supportive at all by any supervision of alcohol. I have serious concerns about any unsupervised sale of alcohol.”
Councillors agreed to put the application on hold for a site visit of the premises to take place.
Licensing board chairman, Cllr Norman Work said: “Self service alcohol pumps does ring alarm bells. Alcohol needs to be supervised.
“I’m trying to get my head around this and I’m not getting why there’s a need to provide alcohol here. There are too many unanswered questions.”