Councillor’s anger at shorter drink hours bid rejection

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A COUNCILLOR says he is “very disappointed” that plans to curb the hours pubs and clubs sell booze in the centre of Hartlepool were rejected as he believed they could have made a real difference.

Hartlepool Borough Council was considering proposals for an Early Morning Alcohol Restriction Order (EMRO), which would prohibit the sale of alcohol from 2am-6am and bring an end to the 24-hour drinking in town.

But the council’s licensing committee last week rejected the plans over fears that a reduction in opening hours, in the current economic climate, could have “serious consequences” for the viability of businesses.

Hartlepool would have been the first place in the country to adopt an EMRO but licensees say the decision will “safeguard” staff and businesses.

Councillor Jonathan Brash was a big supporter of the EMRO being introduced due to the “negative effect” of alcohol in terms of crime and health and cost to town taxpayers.

Proposals for the EMRO followed representations from Cleveland Police and Louise Wallace, the director of public health in Hartlepool, who say crime and disorder continues to be a “significant issue”.

Figures show violent crime has been halved since 2005 between the hours of 9pm and 6am - the hours associated with the night time economy – but a third of crime continues to occur between those hours

Coun Brash said he didn’t believe in a “nanny state” but said the experiment with late licences has “not worked”.

Coun Brash, who refers to himself as Independent Labour but is classed as independent on the council website, added: “I am very disappointed as I do believe the EMRO would have made a very positive difference in our town in terms of the anti-social behaviour and health of residents.

“Having said that, I don’t want to criticise the councillors for making the decision because I know they were under a lot of pressure and it was a difficult decision they had to make.

“But I hope that we will re-visit this issue at some point in the near future.”

Local licensees and representatives from national pub chains including Marston’s, which runs 12 pubs in Hartlepool, and Punch Taverns spoke against the plans at the licensing meeting.

A report said 40 per cent of licensed premises had closed in Hartlepool since the 24-hour legislation was brought in and members were asked to consider the “benefits and burdens” of introducing an EMRO.

Conservative group leader Ray Wells, chairman of the licensing committee, said the licensing committee considered the representations and was satisfied that an EMRO could play a role in reducing violence but was mindful of the concerns raised by local licensees that a reduction in opening hours could have serious consequences for the viability of their businesses.

Hartlepool currently has 13 premises licensed to serve alcohol beyond 2am and licensing chiefs say unless there are specific problems associated with particular premises the council has no power to reduce their operating hours.