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Page last updated at 00:46 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 01:46 UK
Minimum alcohol prices for Oldham

By Richard Bilton
Reporter, BBC Panorama

How the new bar would work for drinkers

"You go out on Yorkshire Street on a Friday night and you are taking your life in your own hands," says a local resident, "It's frightening".

Yorkshire Street is the main drinking area in Oldham which had a 200% increase in serious violent incidents in the first four months of this year.

That's a stabbing or an assault with intention to kill on average every Friday and Saturday night.

But the Greater Manchester town has come up with a unique way of fighting back the recent spike in alcohol-related disorder.

The council believes promotions such as 2-4-1s, drink as much as you can for £5.99, and free shots, have fuelled an atmosphere of violence.

Map of Yorkshire Street in Oldham
Oldham saw a 200% increase in violent crimes in the first four months of 2009

So it decided to review the licences of each of the 22 bars and clubs that sell cut-price drinks.

They have been told that if they want to sell alcohol at less than 75p a unit - about £1.88 for a strong pint of lager - they will have to change the way they operate.

This move could have wider significance, as Oldham's attempts at changing the culture of drinking are being monitored by several other UK towns which could follow suit.

Oldham council has come up with a model of how its bars could be forced to work if the minimum price is not adopted.

Under the new conditions, drinkers will not be allowed to approach the bar and must wait in a post office style queuing system instead.

Customers would also only be allowed to buy just two drinks at a time and outlets could be made to provide extra door staff as well as paying for police officers to watch over the bar.

Any bars or clubs that refuse to follow the council's new blueprint, could lose their licences.

Alcohol pricing

These changes are aimed at tackling violence and changing the atmosphere of the whole town, according to the council's licensing officer Tony Allen.

"The price of alcohol became so cheap that it was attracting people who didn't have a lot of money to spend.

"That type of clientele was attracted to the town and that, we think, led to more violence and more issues concerning over-consumption," he explains.

The Old Mess House bar successfully appealed against the conditions, after complaining it is unfair to condemn them for violence that happens elsewhere.

But most of Oldham's bars have accepted either the proposal or a version of it.

It's about trying to get people to drink in moderation
Cllr Mark Allcock
Oldham town council

"It scared me to death at first, until I looked at it properly," says Martin Diaper who runs Bar 62, and agrees that something has to be done.

"I think it will deter the premises that are doing the stupid drinks offers. They had to do something, it was going crazy."

But not everyone is as enthusiastic - Jane Ganley runs another bar in town called Vogue and has mixed views about the plans.

"I think it is going to cause more problems because more people are going to jump the queue and aggravate others," she says.

But she agreed charging more for drinks will cut down on the amounts of alcohol being consumed.

"If you get 2-4-1s there are going to be people drinking double the amount for less - if drinks are full price then they are going to drink slower," she adds.

Cllr Mark Allcock, from Oldham town council, says its plans are aimed at slowing down the consumption of alcohol and reducing binge drinking.

"It's about trying to get people to drink in moderation," he explains.

Jane Ganley run bar Vogue
Jane Ganley who runs Vogue think the bar model would cause more trouble

But Oldham council hopes the new conditions will not be needed at all because bars will agree to stay above 75p a unit instead.

"What we are trying to do is work with the law", says Mr Alcock, "We are trying to work with the licensees - and we are actually achieving that unit price."

One city where tackling happy hour is already having an impact is Edinburgh.

In Scotland there will be a ban on irresponsible drinks promotions in bars from next month, but owners have already anticipated this move and many have stopped them already. Panorama was told this has led to a 20% reduction in violent crime in the city.

But Oldham could still be the first town in the UK to effectively push for a minimum price in bars.

Last year, research published by Sheffield University - and commissioned by the Department of Health - concluded increasing the price of alcohol would be one of the most effective measures to tackle alcohol abuse.

The Sheffield team found that a 50p minimum price would lead to a cut of 7% in alcohol consumption across the board and 10% cut among heavy drinkers.

However, the government rejected the 50p figure proposed by England's chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, because it is unfair on the "average drinker".

Panorama: The Truth About Happy Hour is on BBC One, Monday 10 August at 8.30pm.

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