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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 07:29 GMT
Business as usual for Tyne drinkers
By Luke Walton
BBC News

Girls drinking in a Newcastle bar
No full 24 hour licences were granted in Newcastle

A drunk twenty-something woman in a skimpy white dress is given a shoulder to lean on as she staggers away from the neon-lit entrance of a nightclub.

A few yards away a gang of teenagers in short-sleeved shirts leap around the pavement, shouting and waving their arms.

On the corner of the pavement there is a pile of vomit.

It was business as usual for the Bigg Market in Newcastle on Thursday night. Not exactly the descent into anarchy critics of flexible opening hours had feared.

But not, either, an example of the more civilized, continental style of drinking the supporters of licensing reform hope to encourage.

No trouble

The Bigg Market is the epicentre of local pubbing and clubbing in a city famous for its ability to have a good time.

On Thursday this street - and Newcastle as a whole - was sometimes noisy and exuberant but not - at least by its usual standards - particularly rowdy.

In three hours wandering past scores of licensed premises, I saw not a single bit of serious trouble.

Plenty of people looked unwell but no-one was violent and only a few were abusive.

Still, the icy cold weather may have kept some people away and, anyway, the weekend is usually a more hectic time.

Economy hope

Most of the city centre's licensed premises have been granted one- or two-hour extensions but some have chosen not to use their later closing times until Friday night.

One local club will be able to serve until half past three in the morning, though none have been allowed to operate 24 hours a day.

The real test for this new licensing regime lies in the weeks and months ahead.

In an area which relies on its party-image for much of its economy as well as its social life, there is much hanging on the experiment proving a success.


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