Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - February 2016
Longer and more flexible licensing hours have been a good thing for both pubgoers and public order
IN NOVEMBER last year, we saw the tenth anniversary of the implementation of the 2003 Licensing Act, which allowed pubs and bars to open whenever they wanted, subject to local authority approval. At the time, there were widespread scare stories about the likely effects of “24-hour drinking”. The Daily Mail predicted that it would unleash “unbridled hedonism... with all the ghastly consequences that will follow,” while the Sun told its readers to prepare for the “inevitable swarm of drunken youngsters”. The Association of Chief Police Officers warned that “people are going to drink more because of the longer hours and there will be lots more crime and disorder”. And the Royal College of Physicians said that “24 hour pub opening will lead to more excess and binge drinking, especially among young people.”
But, in practice, none of this happened, although some ill-informed politicians still go on about “rolling back the 24-hour drinking culture”. Today, we are drinking a fifth less than we did back then, with consumption in licensed premises having fallen by more than a quarter. Frequent drinking amongst young adults has fallen by more than two thirds. Rates of binge drinking have fallen amongst every age group, most sharply amongst 16 to 24 year olds.
Far from there being “lots more crime and disorder”, there is in fact much less. Criminal damage is down by 48 per cent, domestic violence by 28 per cent and violence in general by 40 per cent. Instances of drink driving not only fell after the Act came into effect, but fell more sharply in England and Wales, where the new law was applied, than in Scotland where it wasn’t. As for alcohol-related deaths, they were rising before the Licensing Act was introduced, but flattened out in 2005 and have not risen since.
We still do see some alcohol-related disorder in city centres on weekend nights, but it is a lot less than it used to be. Taking away the traditional flashpoint of moving from pub to club has helped, and from pubs’ point of view it is much better that people stay there longer and may not feel the need to move on at all. The average pub has extended its closing time by a massive 29 minutes, and in fact it’s impossible to find any example of pubs and bars where you really can drink round the clock, or anything like it.
In my experience, the trade still noticeably thins out around 11 pm, as people need to get last buses or trains, or remember they have to go to work the next morning. A few stay for another drink or two, but the evening winds down in a civilised way, and there’s no trouble or obvious drunkenness. It’s also much easier to get a cab home if everyone doesn’t call for one at the same time. The Act has not been without its problems, but overall it has improved the experience of pubgoers and contributed to less dangerous late-night streets.
Planning rules are preventing micropubs offering decent toilet provision
BACK IN August last year, I criticised some recently-opened micropubs for only providing a single unisex WC for their customers, which could easily become overwhelmed at busy times. However, a correspondent reports that the key reason for this is not the owners being skinflints, but planning rules. It is OK to have a single WC, but if you want to add another, it has to be one accessible to the disabled. If you only have room for two standard-sized WCs, hard luck, it’s either an accessible one or nothing. Existing pubs can avoid this requirement through “grandfather rights”, but new ones can’t. This is a classic case of well-meaning legislation ending up having unintended adverse consequences.