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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January 2005, 18:56 GMT
Coping with 24 hour pub opening
Analysis
By Mark Easton
BBC News Home Editor

Pub bar
Plans for flexible pub opening times has prompted fears of disorder

The latest proposals on alcohol are a rather belated attempt to manage a recent phenomenon in Britain - a burgeoning night-time economy.

The collapse of traditional manufacturing in many towns and cities led authorities to look at new ways to promote growth and create jobs.

So, instead of smoky factories working nine to five producing widgets, high streets and market squares were transformed into late-night 'factories of fun' - money-spinners for the hospitality industry.

One type of business elbowed out almost all others - the mega-pub selling cheap beer to 18 to 24-year-olds.

Poor infrastructure

But they are a victim of their own success because the vital infrastructure needed to support this booming trade is lacking.

Transport systems virtually shut down, forcing thousands to queue for a handful of late-night buses and minicabs with inevitable disputes and fights; while young people bursting with beer spill out onto the streets only to be confronted with locked public lavatories.

Meanwhile, the skeleton night-shift at the police station or casualty department become overwhelmed by their increased workload.

The situation in Nottingham is a prime example.

On a typical Friday night there are up to 100,000 people in the city centre and, at most, 40 police officers to deal with any problems.

Routinely, according to the chief constable, this tiny band of officers ferry people to casualty because there are no ambulances available.

And there is only one public loo open in the city centre.

Drunk man
Town centres may not be ready for the effects of flexible opening

Nottingham's problems can be found in hundreds of town and city centres up and down the land.

Now flexible pub opening hours will extend the night-time economy still further and there is little sign that we are ready for the change.

Increases in the cost of a licence will fund squads of council inspectors.

Alcohol Disorder Zones may force some landlords to pay for extra police in problem areas.

There may even be some petty cash for some extra street cleaners to clear away the mess before the morning rush-hour.

But addressing the root cause requires us to recognise that Britain is no longer a nine to five nation.

The one hope is that switching responsibility for licensing from the courts to the council may allow local authorities to control and shape the night-time economy.

In one sense, we have been here before.

Blame game

Back in 1988 the Conservative government was warned that their plans to allow pubs to remain open all day would lead to more drunkenness and more disorder.

In fact, alcohol consumption per capita fell every year for five years after the legislation was passed.

Britain did not slump into a stupor.

The evidence, then, does not support the contention that having pubs open longer inevitably means more consumption and more problems.

It is not good enough simply to blame "yobs" and "bad landlords" for late-night disorder.

The politicians and planners are just as responsible.




SEE ALSO:
Drinking plans 'need examining'
21 Jan 05 |  UK Politics
How much is too much?
20 Jan 05 |  Magazine
Dobson attacks 24-hour drinking
14 Jan 05 |  UK Politics



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