NEWTON Stewart is in danger of “going into hibernation” and losing a whole generation of youngsters following the reduction of licensing hours, it was claimed this week.
The town’s publicans and businesses have hit out at comments made by a fellow licensee in the town who claimed that 1am closing instead of 2am will make little difference to jobs, nightlife and trade.
Newton Stewart Business Association chairman Gordon Andrews, owner of two licensed premises in the town, said last week that jobs don’t rely on that extra hour.
But Eileen Cockburn, licensee of the Star Inn and the Central Bar, said that was nonsense and that jobs had already been lost.
She said: “As far as I’m concerned, Newton Stewart is going into hibernation. There is nothing here for youngsters if they can’t even enjoy a full night out in their own town.
“I watch from the Star every Saturday as scores of folk get on the last bus to Stranraer. It’s definitely having an impact on this town.”
She said crowds of pub-goers who would have usually stayed in the town for the duration of the night were clearing out.
She added: “I do worry about the potential for boy racers to start whizzing up and down the A75 ferrying folk between the towns and there have already been altercations between the Whithorn and Newton lads and the Stranraer lot.”
The Central Bar was forced to close its popular disco area to the rear of the pub during the summer following the reduction of its licensing hours due to lack of customers. This resulted in the loss of all part-time jobs.
Sinead Hart, of the Crown Hotel on Queen Street, told the Gazette that the loss in trade for her bar can now be in the region of 60 percent on a Saturday night. She added: “The difference is extreme. We are facing huge problems. Two years ago we were given certain criteria by the licensing board to aid us in complying to obtain our late licence. We are extremely strict on our zero tolerance policy and this proved very benificial to us. Initially we refused a lot of business so we would gain a better reputation.”
Hart, whose family also owns two other pubs in the Machars, says the business was praised by police for its smooth running and tight monitoring of kicking-out time noise and disruption, never having so much as one complaint from neighbours.
But she said: “We are now putting very unhappy customers out on the street at 1am. We are not playing guessing games here, we are the ones who ring for taxis to take our customers to Stranraer. And this is not at midnight or 1am - this is at 9pm and 10pm. We were told we would only be losing the last hour of trade. We said and knew this wouldn’t be the case and unfortunately we’ve been proven correct.” Sinead also feels that without a decent night scene, youngsters will be encouraged to move away from the town.
She said: “I find it so unfair to think how this has happened. Business people have put such huge efforts into building nice, modern, safe premises for the people of Newton Stewart and Wigtown to enjoy a night out.
“One of the biggest assets to Newton Stewart is tourism. Now we can’t even offer a late well-run venue. And the surrounding public houses are just so quiet it’s not worth trying to plan a night out here. We have had golfers, stalkers and other groups of tourists come visit and when they realise we close at 1am they generally plan Saturday night out in Stranraer.”
Inspector Stuart Davidson, who was instrumental in changing the licensing hours to maintain peace in the town, said: “The licensing hours were reduced in May and since then we have seen a reduction in the number of reports of anti-social behaviour, street disorder and noise complaints during the early hours of the mornings at weekends. This is a positive step for the communities and I have had members of the public tell me they have noticed a difference.”
But publicans may now be wondering if Stranraer’s hours could be reviewed following reports from local police of antisocial behaviour from drunken revellers at weekends.
A meeting was held on Wednesday between the Wigtownshire Chamber of Commerce and licensees to discuss the effects of the reduced hours. Chair of the licensing board, Iain Dick, had been asked to attend but was unable to as the meeting was outwith his legal responsibilities.
A spokeswoman for the Chamber said: “We will now seek a meeting with the licensing board with a view to having Newton Stewart and Stranraer placed on a equal playing field.”