MAYOR Stuart Drummond has called for a blanket 2am closure time for pubs and bars after labelling 24-hour drinking a “disaster” for Hartlepool.
The Mayor also has drink prices high on the agenda, throwing his weight behind Government plans announced last week for a minimum price per unit of alcohol in a bid to clamp down on irresponsible boozing.
He said minimum pricing is a “small step” in tackling the town’s drink-fuelled problems, alongside changing licensing laws as part of the bigger picture.
Hartlepool has more late licences than anywhere else in the North-East, and Mayor Drummond wants to put a stop to venues opening until 4am.
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He wants to see all licensed premises close their doors at 2am at the latest.
Mayor Drummond said: “It is obvious that the 24-hour law has been nigh on a disaster for Hartlepool.”
He added that people from all over the region would once come to Hartlepool for a night out but added that was now not the case due to its “reputation”.
Round-the-clock legislation was introduced in 2005 and there are currently 12 pubs and bars in town with a 4am licence, 10 of which are open for business.
It is a policy of Hartlepool Borough Council that applications for new pubs and clubs to stay open until 4am will not be looked on favourably.
Applications for late licences can still be submitted but since the new polcy was adopted in December 2010, the council has not received any.
Now Mayor Drummond wants to see an earlier closing time of 2am across town.
There has been previous attempts at 2am trial closures but they failed after some landlords shunned the proposals and remained open.
Speaking during a recent cabinet meeting, Mayor Drummond said: “We have more late licences than anywhere in the North-East and a lot of England.
“That has caused nothing but problems and I would sincerely hope that everybody would support bringing it back down to 2am.
“The sooner the better and the support is there from licensees.”
Figures from Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, show Hartlepool has a staggering bill of up to £51m a year in costs attributed to alcohol.
That covers emergency services being called out, hospital staffing costs and police patrols.
Tackling alcohol-related violence, particularly around the night-time economy, has been a key police priority and was a key feature of the Operation Respect Hartlepool campaign.
The introduction of round-the-clock drinking has been blamed for an increase in anti-social behaviour and violence in the night-time economy area, which includes Victoria Road and Church Street, rather than creating the desired “cafe-culture” effect.
Mayor Drummond added: “We need to change the drinking culture back to 10 years ago where people would go to the estate pubs, then into town and home for a reasonable time.
“Rather than the current situation where people get tanked up at home and then head into town late into the evening.”
He said minimum alcohol pricing would complement proposals for a return to 2am closures. “It’s been a real drain on public resources more than anything,” he said.
Speaking about the national picture, he said: “There is a lot happening, but there is a lot more that we need to do.
“We have slowly started to recognise the problem with alcohol across the board.
“It has a big effect on public services, the police and fire, and rather than some of the swathing cuts we are seeing if they tackle some of the root causes then the deficits might not be so big.”
PC Andy Thorpe, of Hartlepool District Licensing Unit, said: “We do agree that the laws have brougt their fair share of issues to Hartlepool, especially as our peak time for incidents in the local night time economy is between 2am and 4am.”
Mayor Drummond, who is also chair of the Safer Hartlepool Partnership, was speaking at a recent cabinet meeting which had met to agree the Safer Hartlepool Partnership adult substance misuse plans for 2012-13.