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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 13:34 GMT
Will we all be rolling around drunk?
Some pubs would struggle to get passing trade all day

As the prospect of 24-hour drinking nears, amid concerns of increased drunkeness and violence, there are estimates that 700 premises have applied for the necessary licence. But will a pub near you actually be open right round the clock?

There are 160,000 licensed premises in England and Wales, covering pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants and off-licences, according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

But while about three-quarters of pubs and bars have applied to extend their licences by several hours, just a fraction have asked to sell alcohol 24 hours a day.

About 160 pubs and bars have applied for the non-stop licence, plus about 100 restaurants and hotels.

The bulk of applications have come from supermarkets, with Tesco alone applying for 300 of its stores to sell alcohol continuously.

They'd have to close for at least four hours just to clean up and re-stock.
Miles Quest
British Hospitality Association

The government has dismissed criticism saying there is but a "handful" of applications throughout the country and as most people behave most of the time they should have the freedom not to be restricted.

But from the landlords' point of view, the practicalities of never shutting the pub doors seems to have put them off.

The British Beer and Pub Association was not surprised by the small number of applications.

"It's what we've said all along - it's just not worth a pub opening for 24 hours," a spokesman said.

Obviously, a lack of customers was a key reason: "People, customers have jobs to go to," he said.

Of those who had applied, the majority were not even expected to open for 24 hours, the association said.

The spokesman said: "Flexibility is the main reason for applying. If there's a sporting event on the other side of the world, say the World Cup in New Zealand that they are screening, then they can open up rather than apply for a one-off licence.

Keeping the beer running will be key to 24-hour success

"If it makes running a pub easier then we support it," the spokesman added.

Included in changes to the Licensing Act was the requirement for all licensed premises to re-apply.

Ninety percent of pubs and bars applied for a variation on their licences, with 75% of them asking for an extension, typically between one and three hours, the British Beer and Pub Association said.

The British Hospitality Association said it was unlikely pubs and bars would actually open all hours, not least because they have to eventually clear out the customers so they can clean up behind them and re-stock the bottles and barrels.

Spokesman Miles Quest said he would be surprised if they did open, but it would depend on the amount of passing trade.

He said: "Speaking off the top of my head, I think about 40% wouldn't go ahead with 24-hour opening.

"They'd have to close for at least four hours just to clean up and re-stock. Opening for 24 hours is a huge commitment."

He said those that had applied probably did it simply to avoid further application if they wanted to open for longer in the future - not because of any plan to fulfil the 24-hour opening.

"They can try it out and if it works, it works. If not, then they can scrap it. Whether it will prove profitable, we'll have to wait and see."

Responsible selling

But for alcohol campaigners, the issue of responsibility is key no matter how many hours alcohol is sold for.

Cheap drink promotions and selling to drunks or underage drinkers should be stopped, Alcohol Concern said.

Whether somewhere is open 24 hours or just four hours, retailers and pubs needed to ensure staff were aware of their legal requirements.

"All those things apply across the board, whether its a supermarket or a pub. It's not about how long they sell for, it's about acting responsibly," spokeswoman Helen Symons said.

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