2005-09-12

Intolerance: Drink or Café Culture for Scotland?

Once Presbyterian, Glasgow is rapidly becoming the UK's 24-hour party city as liberal licensing chiefs 'wave through' dozens of applications for late-night drinking. The city has relaxed its rules on bar opening times, allowing dozens of new 'hybrid bars' -- which provide dance floors and DJs -- to stay open alongside night clubs until 03:00. The move is aimed at creating a café society in the city for people who do not want to queue to get into a club. Police say there has been no increase in violence. But some licensees now warn that increased 'binge drinking' will be the inevitable result. They say the increased number of bars competing with clubs for late night custom has led to a price war in which premises are forced to offer ever cheaper alcohol in order to compete. Whatever the outcome, Glasgow's reforms are a sign of 'things to come' once new licensing laws are introduced across Scotland in three years' time. The new moves will do away with the distinction between pubs and clubs, and give local licensing boards complete freedom to set closing times for both. Glasgow has anticipated the reforms by adopting a fresh approach to 'entertainment licences' which allow premises to stay open after midnight. Previously, all pubs closed at 01:00 at the very latest, with night clubs remaining open until 03:00. The city is now allowing more bars to stay open longer by granting them entertainment licences on the basis that they meet conditions, such as supplying a dance floor or providing music. The bars include venues such as 'Corinthian', 'Tiger Tiger' and 'Campus'. There were 162 entertainment licences in Glasgow at the end of 2004, a 12 per cent increase from two years previously. By contrast, in other Scottish cities, the figure has either stayed the same or fallen. Councillor Mr.Gordon Macdiarmid, convener of Glasgow City's licensing board, said:
'We have done surveys of tourists who said that one of the problems was that late at night, there were only discos to go to. 'That's fine if you are 18 to 30, but what happens if you don't want to go to a club or just sit in your hotel room? 'What we would all like to see is a move to a more continental style,' he added.
Police support the moves and say they have not led to any increase in drink-fuelled violence on the streets. While alcohol-related admissions to A&E departments at the weekend remain extremely high, physicians say they have not increased as a result of the new liberal laws.
'The proportion of people coming into A&E at weekends due to drunkenness is already so high that it would be hard to notice any difference,' said one consultant.
But local MSPs oppose the moves and are now urging ministers to study the situation in Glasgow, fearing that far from reducing 'binge drinking', as planned, the laws will create the conditions for even heavier excesses. Scotland's alcohol problem is believed to cost the economy the equivalent of 1_100_million_GBP/year in lost productivity, and in the cost to hospitals and the justice system. One recent survey found that 59 per cent of 15-year-olds drink 'alcopops'. Young people aged between 16 and 24 drink more than in any other age group. Critics are now warning that the new liberal regime in Glasgow has already led to a 'free-for-all', with far too may bars and clubs competing for late-night business, by dropping their prices. Mr.Donald Macleod, the owner of the city's 'Garage', 'Cube' and 'Tunnel' nightclubs, said:
'Take a walk down Sauchiehall Street; you see drink offer after drink offer with people begging to get people in the doors. Do you think they would be doing that if the bars were full?'
'I don't think Scotland is near a café society; we have a huge drinking culture and if we keep opening bars all we are doing is making the problem worse.
'We should be operating far stricter conditions for bars opening after the hours of midnight.'
Licensees also warn that, forced to compete with 'hybrid' bars, fewer will invest in both their premises and their security measures. Thus, they warn, the standards of clubs will decline. Mr.Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, which represents licensees across the country, said:
'Quality will suffer. There will be fewer CCTV cameras around venues. People who have invested 2_million_GBP or 3_million_GBP in a nightclub are not going to bother after this.'
Mr.Waterson added that Glasgow's policy was the sign of things to come once the new licensing laws were introduced. He said:
'What worries us is that the massive over-provision will get worse. It will make the problems we are having with binge drinking even more of an issue.'
Glasgow Labour MSP Ms.Pauline Mcneill has now taken Glasgow's case to ministers, demanding that the proposed new licensing laws can be changed.
'This has the potential to undermine the basic principles of the new Act, which has a stated purpose to reduce binge drinking.
'The nub of my concern is that if you go to this new licensing system, then there are more pubs that will apply for the same licences as clubs.' 'The clubs who are trying to protect their businesses in order to compete will start either a price war on drinks or they will open at all times of the day.
'I can see the potential for there to be competition which will undermine the whole Act,' she added.
However, Mr.Macdiarmid insisted that the entertainment licences were given responsibly. He pointed to one bar -- 'Lloyd's' -- which had had its application for an entertainment licence turned down as proof that the city was not running a free-for-all. Mr.Macdiarmid added that, in a city centre, the concerns of local residents did not figure so highly because few people lived nearby.
'These bars go through the normal process and if there isn't an objection or a reason why they should not be granted it then they get it granted.'
He also insisted that there was no evidence of over-provision:
'I have asked people how many come in and I have been given numbers from 30-90_000 people.
'If we had said that there was over-provision, then there would have been no bars like 'Blue' or 'Frankenstein' which have come in and spent large sums of money and brought jobs into the city.' 'The trade wants a protectionist scheme similar to what happens in Ireland. But we have to act in the public interest. I don't think there is any evidence to change our view that there is no over-provision.'
Glasgow's liberal stance is in contrast to Edinburgh, where the licensing board has concluded that the city has already reached saturation point. A spokesman for Edinburgh said:
'The policy recommends that in certain areas identified as having over provision, such as the Grassmarket and Cowgate, that no further licences are granted unless they replace an existing licence or there are special circumstances. While the Board considers every application on its merits, any application in these areas will be considered against the background of recognised over-provision.'
In Aberdeen, Councillor Mr.Ron Clark, convener of the city's licensing board, said he was currently rejecting two applications a week from pubs seeking to extend their licences. The city only has a few nightclubs open until 3am and pubs cannot open beyond 01:00 at the weekend without obtaining an extension to their licence for special functions. He said:
'We don't have an issue with over-provision of late-night licences. We will not grant an extension if there is no proper justification or if police raise any concerns,' said Mr.Clark.
The issue will now be handed over to ministers as they prepare 'The Licensing Bill', which is likely to be enacted in 2008-09. As well as scrapping different forms of licences, it will also ban 'happy-hour' promotions. Bars will have to hold prices for at least 48 hours to discourage them from irresponsible offers.
24-hour party people drink to 'hybrid' bars It is shortly after 22:00 and Gillian's 'leaving party' is in full swing. The 27-year-old's colleagues are determined to give her a stylish farewell from an accountancy firm in Scotland's largest city. Despite the proliferation of pubs, clubs and bars across Glasgow, the group have settled in 'Tiger Tiger', a popular hybrid bar, club and restaurant which opened three years ago. It is the first visit by the small group of office workers to the three-floor complex in Glassford Street. But they are clearly impressed with the laughter-filled Friday night atmosphere and, more importantly, its 03:00 licence. 'Tiger Tiger' is carefully targeted and seems to have hit its mark as a stylish late-night venue where people can enjoy drinks, dinner and a dance all in one location. The glass-panelled front provides a window on to a buzzing bar, thronging with revellers. Gillian, from Paisley, Renfrewshire, said she and her friends had remained in town after finishing her last day of work. She said:
'It is not often that I make a night of it in Glasgow but this is a special occasion. When we do come through we tend to hop from one place to another. 'However, we've only been to another couple of places before this and staying on for a bit of dancing. It used to be the case that staying in one place was boring but we are having a great time just where we are.'
Elsewhere in the eight-bar venue, Mr.Jack Tolland, 30, said he visited 'Tiger Tiger' about twice a month:
'Trends come and go but I think this type of place is here too stay. The last thing you want to be doing on a night out is keep wandering about deciding on where to go next.'
Towards the historic heart of George Square, business was brisk at another pioneer of hybrid venues. 'Corinthian's' clientele is a mixture of office suits and well-dressed party-goers. Those gathering there said the concept of the late night, one-venue weekend had helped secure the city's reputation for partying, particularly among visitors and tourists. One 33-year-old office worker said:
'Glasgow is well known for liking to party, and places like this keep us at the front of the pack. It is good for those living here and of course those visiting. I had some friends over from Canada a few months ago and they were really impressed by what was on offer.'
As midnight passed, revellers in other bars and pubs across the city began spilling out on the street in search of a nightclub to continue their weekend. Large crowds formed at 'Campus', a relatively new arrival on the hybrid scene. Sitting toward the Charing Cross end of the city's famous Sauchiehall Street, the large glass-fronted complex appeared to appeal to a younger set of revellers and could perhaps attract student customers away from other nearby bars. One reveller, James, 25, said:
'It is good to have somewhere else to go. Bars are cropping up all the time but it is better to know there is a place handy where you can just stay on if you feel like it.'
'Birth of cafe society or late night booze bonanza?', Eddie Barnes & Tom Martin, The Scotsman, 2005-09-11, Su Links: Alcohol Focus Scotland Health Education Board for Scotland Alcohol Concern Alcohol Information Scotland

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