Licensing questions

The Wigtownshire Chamber of Commerce is asking the local Licensing Board for an explanation over its decision to force Newton Stewart licensed premises to close an hour earlier than those in Stranraer.

In a letter to the Board’s Convenor, Councillor Iain Dick, the Chamber says that it is concerned about what it describes as a two-tier approach which gives some businesses in the area an unfair and artificial competitive advantage at the expense of others.

The Licensing Board removed 2am entertainments licenses from Newton Stewart bars and hotels in May this year and, says the Chamber, this has led to a dramatic decline in vital weekend trade which is now putting jobs at risk as many people from the Newton Stewart area travel to Stranraer instead to take advantage of later opening hours.

Newton Stewart businesses have exactly the same overheads and costs imposed on them as those in Stranraer, yet are being forced to close earlier which is hitting them hard.

With sharp falls in visitor numbers, any further loss of trade will mean jobs will be lost in an area where employment opportunities are already scarce.

“It seems that the blame for binge drinking is being put put solely at the door of the heavily regulated licensed trade when the evidence shows cheap alcohol in supermarkets is the real issue,” said a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson.

“We do not support some businesses being artificially disadvantaged in this way and are calling for a level playing field.

“Either all licensed premises should close at 1am or be allowed to open until 2am across the whole of the Licensing Board area.”

The Chamber has asked to meet the Board to discuss the issue further.

A Dumfries and Galloway Council spokesperson said: “Wigtown Divisional Licensing Board’s new Licensing Policy Statement came into effect on 20 November 2010 following a comprehensive consultation with licence holders, the local licensing forum and the wider community. The new statement includes changes to licensed hours policy (closing times restricted from 2am to 1am for premises outwith Stranraer Town) which were introduced following the proper legal process.

The Licensing Board has to make decisions based on the licensing objectives in the 2005 Act:-

* Preventing Crime and Disorder

* securing Public Safety

* Preventing Public Nuisance

* Protecting and Improving Public Health

* Protecting Children from Harm

These objectives do not include consideration of economic circumstances.

Premises Licence Review hearings took place on 10 March 2011 in respect of the two premises which had opening hours longer than allowed by the new policy. Both of these premises are in Newton Stewart. After looking at all the material, the Board decided to restrict their hours to end at 1am. The Board had already agreed that any variation to licensed hours would not come into effect until 1 May 2011 to give licence holders time to introduce any changes. An appeal against the Board’s decision would have been to the Sheriff Principal.

The Board also pointed out to the two licence holders immediately after the hearings that the Board would give favourable consideration to extended hours applications for events which had been pre-booked.

A report will be submitted to the Board after six months operation of the new Licensed Hours Policy asking the Board to assess the impact of the policy.”