Council chiefs were today accused of having already made their minds up to ban booze being sold after 3am in Blackpool town centre.
Just days before a hearing starts into controversial proposals for an Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO), it emerged the legislation has already been written into the council’s formal action plan for the next two years.
A section of the plan entitled ‘Healthy Communities’ lists a number of items under the heading ‘What we will do’.
The second paragraph states “Implement the 2013-16 Alcohol Strategy, including the introduction of Early Morning Restriction Orders on licensed premises.”
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Tories on Blackpool Council, claimed the document – which has already been approved by the ruling Labour executive – proved the council had already made its mind up.
He said: “ It would appear from reading the Blackpool Plan, which was adopted at the recent executive meeting, there is a pre-determined decision to introduce an EMRO for the town.
“It’s stated quite clearly in the plan for everyone to see.
“This makes a complete mockery of the consultation process. It’s quite clear this council and the Labour administration have already made their minds up that an EMRO will be introduced.
“The hearing is costing thousands of pounds in reports and legal representation from all involved parties and this administration is allowing all this money and effort to be wasted in hard times when they have apparently already made their minds up.
“I am considering reporting the council to the Independent Parliamentary Commission which has been recently set up to investigate complaints of council financial waste.
“Blackpool Council is not a fair and listening council, it’s a dictatorship.”
But council leader Coun Simon Blackburn denied a decision had been made.
He said: “The Blackpool Council plan 2013-15 sets out the aspirations of my administration until 2015.
“Many of the proposed actions within that plan, for example the proposal to roll out the selective licensing scheme to Claremont, the aspiration to sell and lease council buildings and the aspiration to increase the number of and survival rate and start up businesses, are included.
“Including aspirations and proposals within the plan does not necessarily mean they will certainly happen, nor does it have any effect on consultations or the council’s ability to listen.”
Earlier this year Coun Blackburn stressed the council would listen to all the arguments surrounding the EMRO.
Writing in his online blog on July 30, he said: “I’m not looking to campaign for or against an EMRO. It’s for the Licensing Committee to make a recommendation under a free vote based on the evidence brought forward.”
He added: “While, as I’ve said, this is a decision which is out of my hands and the recommendation will be made by the Licensing Committee, I know that every comment will be taken into account.
“The EMRO decision is not a done deal – far from it.
“Until all the views have been heard and all the facts have been discussed no decision will be made.”
The EMRO would force the closure of pubs and clubs within a town centre zone at 3am.
Police say it will help reduce booze-fuelled violence and help them manage their ‘stretched’ resources.
But local tourism chiefs fear it will close venues, cost jobs and send out a damaging message Blackpool cannot police itself at a time when violent crime in the town centre has fallen over the last decade.
Craig Southall, chairman of Blackpool Pubwatch which is opposed to the EMRO, said: “It’s a concern when we are about to go into a formal hearing which is meant to be unbiased, that this statement on the EMRO is in black and white in a council document.
“It makes you wonder if the council is listening to people, or is it just a box ticking process.
“However, if the EMRO is agreed, it is likely we will be asking for a Judicial Review and that could cost the council in the region of £100,000.”