23 August 2005

Will later licences fuel binge drinking?

For me, November cannot come soon enough. I'm looking forward to later drinking licences (as promised 4 years ago!!) and I am dismayed to hear that according to the Brighton Argus newspaper, 40% of applications in Brighton and Hove have received at least one objection. Reading the Argus front page headline; "Outcry over 3am drunks", you would think that even the prospect of later licences has caused trouble!

"A spate of applications for pubs to extend their hours has resulted in an unprecedented rise in complaints about drunken and yobbish behaviour, violence and vandalism."

I really believe that given time, the new laws will reduce binge drinking. Montpelier Inn is one of the pubs that has received objections from residents about its application to extend hours to 12.30am Sunday to Wednesday and 1.30am Thursday to Saturday. I live literally 15 yards from this pub and I can vouch that I have never seen or heard any trouble from this pub. The only drunks I have heard late at night have been walking home from night clubs in town. Nobody is proposing closing nightclubs.

The argument goes that the UK has a binge drinking culture and cannot be turned into a mediterranean cafe culture overnight. This is of course true, but part of the reason for our binge culture and violence is the rush to drink up for closing time.

I have no doubt that alcohol consumption will rise as a result of late licences and I also think there will be initial problems as people get used to the new hours. But I think overall, drinking patterns will change. People will be free to go out later at night than at present and this tendency to down drinks and 'line them up' before they leave will gradually disappear.

I think of how my own behaviour will be affected, and I will now be able to go out later and be able to stay in the pub rather than go to some rowdy bar or club that I don't particularly like. To me it is places like Yates Wine Lodge and other bars and clubs where seating is deliberately removed and conversation impossible that binge drinking largely takes place. I think a good idea might be to stipulate a certain amount of seating must be available in these establishments. It is well known that standing up encourages drinkers to drink faster and to be more prone to violent behaviour. Look at how seating has calmed down football crowds!

Overall looking at Scotland and Ireland the omens of liberalising hours do not look good. But Ireland just extended opening by 1.5 hours, so the closing time effect was just displaced rather than removed. Scotland however is a different story as binge drinking and violence have undoubtedly increased there. So it shows that other measures might be needed such as powers to close offending pubs and maybe even a ban on alcohol advertising.

However I think liberalising hours would be justified purely on the relief it provides to the emergency services by spreading out any potential crime and disorder and also the benefit to the tourism economy cannot be dismissed. We must remember that people can already drink 24 hours a day by stocking up from off licences or drink till 2am-3am by going to a nighclub, so this just extends that option to sitting in a pub.

Binge drinking is already a massive problem in the UK, and controlling opening hours has proved to be ineffective at reducing this. We only have to look to Sweden to see how binge drinking has taken hold there despite draconian measures to stop it. We have to look at how we can accomodate the leisurely late night drinker in a pub AND discourage binge drinking. The two are not related!

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