As consultation over imposing the EMRO booze ban comes to an end tonight, The Gazette joins attraction bosses, licensees and politicians in saying to the council... ‘Don’t Give Blackpool An ASBO’
The resort’s most influential business, tourism and political figures are united in their abject horror at the prospect of the controversial move.
Blackpool Council is looking at introducing an Early Morning Alcohol Restriction Order (EMRO) – a ban on serving alcohol after 3am in 14 town centre streets.
An online public consultation on the proposal ends tonight. The council’s licensing committee will make the final decision in September.
While police and health chiefs support the move, in the belief it will reduce crime and alcohol problems, those who work within the tourism sector say it will be disastrous – sending out the message Blackpool is not safe and in effect giving the town a self-imposed Anti Social Behaviour Order.
Pub and club owners say longer opening hours in recent years have helped combat the booze-fuelled violence which plagued Blackpool a decade ago.
They say to force clubland to stop selling alcohol earlier than other towns and cities will see punters – and vital investment – head elsewhere, venues closing down and hundreds of jobs lost.
Blackpool would be the first public authority in England to bring in an EMRO, a move many see as unjustified and damaging.
Crime, particularly violent crime, has fallen in Blackpool town centre since opening hours were relaxed under the Licensing Act almost a decade ago.
So why does Blackpool need this when all other towns and cities that have considered it have scrapped the idea due to the adverse impact it would have on jobs, tourism and business.
Is this, as many suspect, a knee-jerk reaction to the less than flattering image of Blackpool in Channel Four’s police-backed 999: What’s Your Emergency? or a council trying to make a name for itself?
We asked those at the forefront of tourism in Blackpool for their opinions.
Entertainment giant Merlin, which operates eight attractions in Blackpool, is objecting to the EMRO and has warned the order would be bad for business.
As well as curtailing late night events in the Tower Ballroom, the company fears the move would paint the wrong picture of the resort.
It has taken the stance despite being a key partner with the council, and has submitted a formal written objection.
Iain Hawkins, head of Merlin’s attractions in Blackpool, which include The Tower and Madame Tussaud’s, said: “It is not fair to cut off the livelihoods of a lot of businesses in the town.
“Everyone is working together to build up the reputation of Blackpool, but people’s perceptions of the town are not great yet.
“I think if the town introduces the EMRO, it will look like we have got a lot of issues and that kind of message filtering across the nation is really unhealthy for us.
“It puts out a bad message for my eight attractions.This cannot go forward.
“We hold late night eventing in the Ballroom, which is privately managed, and we could lose business if the Ballroom was unable to trade late at night. That would not be fair, when other venues outside the EMRO zone can trade late at night.
“This is not about taking a swipe at the council, but let’s not reduce our economy.
“We need to find a common way to tackle this without losing trade and business.”
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool Council, said: “It would appear a pre-determined decision, aimed at trying to appear forthright and in control of the type of behaviour witnessed on the Channel 4 999 programme, now has to be justified, rather that the other way around.
“Issuing an EMRO is placing a self-inflicted ASBO on Blackpool and, by virtue, announcing to the world both the police and the council cannot control the situation.
“The question everyone seems to asking is ‘what situation?’ Certainly the evidence from the crime statistics I have seen does not back the decision to issue an EMRO, and as only two venues would be affected it seems like using a jack boot to squash a flea.
“Even with EMRO, drinkers will still be able to access the casinos up until daylight as they would be exempt.
“We have an award winning Pubwatch scheme and we are also reducing crime figures. That is what we should be doing instead of making a pseudo bravo statement that we are going to be the first town in the UK to issue an EMRO. Sometimes not being the first makes you a winner.”
Martin Long, chairman of the Blackpool Business Leadership Group (BBLG), said: “I polled the membership on this subject last week and 100 per cent of members who responded objected to it.
“Those members also represented a wide cross-section of the local business community. The BBLG takes the view the licensing objectives of the proposed EMRO will not be met, there are more appropriate measures which could be taken to deal with the issues and that an EMRO could have a very adverse effect on the wider economic development of Blackpool.”
David Cam, Secretary of Blackpool Pleasure Beach added: “There is no evidence to suggest an EMRO would solve any of the problems faced by the police or others involved in managing the town’s night time economy.
“Instead, the imposition of an EMRO would give out completely the wrong message, particularly to those elements of the press who delight in knocking Blackpool. It is, quite simply, the wrong tool for the job. We invite the council’s licensing committee to reconvene as a matter of urgency, abandon the EMRO process immediately and enter into early discussions with all interested parties to resolve the issues in a spirit of cooperation.”
Hoteliers have repeatedly aired their concerns over EMRO at meetings with police.
Claire Smith, Chairman of StayBlackpool, said: “One of the big issues is the negative publicity the town would get as a result of being the first to bring in an EMRO.
“It is really tough and challenging times, and we’re all having to work three times as hard in whatever industry.
“Blackpool Pubwatch won a national award for their impressive range of responsible drinking initiatives and I think that is really important.
“What that says is our business have got together and are doing their bit – we should be supporting them and listening to what they’re saying. We don’t want to be losing jobs and closing businesses down. We just can’t impose this.”
Hugh Evans, policy director, North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “An EMRO is not appropriate – it’s draconian. Nor is it necessary.
“Blackpool’s night time economy should not be seen as a threat but rather an opportunity that brings enormous financial benefits to an industry that is already operating on wafer thin margins. It creates wealth, jobs and investment.
“It needs to be better managed but this doesn’t mean imposing measures that restrict trade. It means more effective partnership working that goes beyond alcohol and licensing-related issues – a partnership that takes a proactive, flexible and strategic approach to decision-making.
“Blackpool’s night time economy, properly managed, should be a catalyst for economic growth in the town.”
Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys said: “This is more about the council securing headlines than about tackling the cost to the public purse of alcohol consumption.
“Undoubtedly it is one tool that can be used, but very much as a last resort rather than a first resort. I wonder why the town has not maintained Nightsafe, and why the area to which the EMRO
applies excludes areas such as Clifton Street?
“Why is it that the police don’t arrest those drunk and disorderly in public areas, or issue Banning Orders, as they already have the powers to do?
“We need to restore Blackpool’s town centre for use by local people, but an EMRO between 3am to 5am is not the way to do it.
Public consultation ends tonight, click here to have your say www.blackpool.gov.uk.