Controversial plans to ban late night drinking in Blackpool town centre will help ease the burden on over-stretched police resources, Lancashire’s most senior officer today admitted.
Although long-denied that the proposed introduction of an Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO)– which would ban pubs and clubs serving booze after 3am – had anything to do with police staffing levels, Chief Constable Steve Finningan said the move would help his force.
Blackpool could be the first town or city in the UK to introduce an EMRO.
The proposal is set to be discussed at a hearing next month, at which council bosses, police and licensees who oppose the idea will put their views across.
Many of the town’s big tourism businesses and opposition politicians fear an EMRO would send out a damaging message to the rest of the UK that Blackpool is unsafe at a time when violent crime in the town centre has actually fallen.
But Mr Finnigan said he “absolutely supported” the EMRO idea, adding the move would help the police’s increasingly stretched resources, which are being tested by millions in Government cuts.
The acknowledgement comes despite senior officers in Blackpool previously telling The Gazette their backing of an EMRO had nothing to do with police resources.
Mr Finnigan said: “I absolutely support the application for the EMRO.
“I don’t see there can be any doubt, particularly in Blackpool, that alcohol is a root cause of much of the crime we deal with and I really do think that if an EMRO is approved we will get a much healthier night-time economy and certainly my own organisation will be able to manage better the stretch on resources that exists after 3am.”
Chief Supt Richard Debicki, who was Blackpool’s most senior officer when the EMRO idea was first mooted earlier this year, previously told The Gazette: “Our position around this is not based on police resources. The wider issue here is public safety and the safety of the wider community and generating a really vibrant night time economy.”
Mr Finnigan’s comments came despite analysis of official figures by The Gazette earlier this year, which revealed an overall drop in crime on town centre streets over the past decade.
But Mr Finnigan added: “Police data produced for consideration in the EMRO hearing, show the proposed EMRO area experiences a disproportionate amount of crime, particularly violent crime, for its small geographical size.
“Police evidence also shows that since 2008 there has been a rising trend in the amount of violent crime in the EMRO area between 3am and 6am, a rising trend in the levels of more serious violence and, for an even longer period, a rising trend in the proportion of total violent crime occurring between these hours.
“It is also important to note this pattern is incongruent with the pattern being demonstrated elsewhere and at other times of the day. Therefore the EMRO area and period appears to be experiencing specific and unique problems.”
Pub bosses today told of their of concern at Mr Finnigan’s comments. They say Blackpool should be policed as a tourist destination which attracts millions of people each year, not merely a large town.
Craig Southall, chairman of Blackpool Pubwatch, said: “I worry a bit they’re changing their story (about the EMRO) because it’s the first time they’ve admitted to this.
“The implications are that everybody’s going to be out on the streets at 3am – it’s going to increase crime and disorder.”
Peter Bowden, who runs Club Sanuk which would be affected by the EMRO, said: “My belief all along is this whole EMRO is completely about police resources.
“I’m very glad the chief constable has finally admitted that’s what it is.
“Now, finally the man right at the top has said what the truth is. My biggest concern about all this is their job is to make people feel safe and what they have done by proposing this EMRO is make people believe that Blackpool is a dangerous place.”
James Morgan, owner of the Darfield Hotel, on Charnley Road, said: “For them to enforce this (the EMRO) they’re going to need more resources anyway to make everybody comply with this.
“I don’t see how they’re going to put it into practice.”
Andy Walker, of the Mayfair Hotel, on Vance Road, said: “All that will happen with the resources of the police is it will transfer them from one time to another.
“Their resources are going to be stretched.”
Licensees are calling on the council and police to listen to alternatives to the EMRO – including a late night levy on those businesses which stay open late.
The idea, which has already been introduced in Newcastle, would see business pay extra to help with police costs.
The EMRO hearing will be held at Blackpool Town Hall between December 9 to 13.