Blackpool Council chiefs fear high levels of crime associated with town centre drinking are at odds with the millions of pounds invested in regeneration in Blackpool.
They say promoting tourism and creating a safer community are two key objectives but warn “a town with a reputation for high levels of crime and antisocial behaviour is going to struggle to attract the wide and varied audience that can support and sustain businesses in a way that will encourage the town to grow rather than shrink.”
A report accompanying the consultation document adds the area designated for the EMRO has become a magnet for stag and hen parties rather than a family destination.
It adds evidence from the police in support of the EMRO “indicates the main night‐time economy area of the town is a hot spot in relation to violence” and puts a considerable burden on police resources to the detriment of outlying residential areas.
It says the police evidence also shows the total number of violent crimes in the area of the proposed EMRO has risen.
The council document suggests the EMRO could tempt people to visit the town centre earlier in the evening, rather than drinking at home first, and encourage a more varied mix of people.
It could encourage them to go home earlier, thus being less disruptive, and free up the emergency services, as well as allowing council resources to be better directed towards ‘preparing the town for the next day’s visitors rather than still be dealing with the previous night’s problems.’
However it does admit there may be a risk of venues closing and jobs being lost.
The Gazette asked for an interview with Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn in relation to EMRO. He declined.
Coun Norman Hardy, chairman of the Licensing committee, which will make the decision, was unavailable to talk about the issue.
A town hall spokesman agreed to answer our questions.
Q) Do you believe an EMRO will help reduce crime and disorder in the designated area?
A) The consultation document says: “The Council believes that the creation of an EMRO will reduce crime and anti‐social behaviour in the area and help create conditions where a more varied offer can be made with businesses not solely based on high levels of alcohol consumption can thrive.”
Q) Some have said this is a knee-jerk reaction to the Lancashire Police-backed TV programme 999: What’s Your Emergency. Is this true?
Q) The consultation document adds: “A town with a reputation for high levels of crime and antisocial behaviour is going to struggle to attract the wide and varied audience that can support and sustain businesses in a way that will encourage the town to grow rather than shrink.”
This appears to fly in the face of council figures which show 11.89 million people visited Blackpool between January and August last year, up from 10.57m in 2011.
A) Those figures relate to the number of visits made to Blackpool not economic growth.
Q) (Crime) statistics appear to show the Licensing Act and longer licensing hours has helped reduced violent crime. Do you not agree?
A) Based on the information available the Licensing Committee chose to consult on the EMRO. We expect many people and agencies to submit evidence for consideration including the police.
Q) Bar/club owners say they have offered to pay for council owned/operated CCTV cameras to be monitored at night, but this was declined. Is this correct? If so, why?
A)No formal offer has been received to fund the CCTV service.
Q) Will you factor in the impact on jobs and tourism when coming to a decision over whether to go ahead with an EMRO or not and how much emphasis will be placed on the result of this public consultation? If enough people say they do not want it, will that be a crucial factor in the committee’s decision?
A) The licensing committee will hear all views expressed through the consultation and having heard the arguments take a view about whether or not to proceed with the EMRO as proposed.
Q) The report provided by Lancashire Police paints a grim picture of the effects of alcohol on society, ie violence, sexual crime and the effects on the town’s health?
Is this a position Blackpool Council agrees with?
Q) If so, why does the council own/operate arguably Blackpool’s biggest stag and hen venue – The Tower Lounge - one which boasts on a sign at its front door: “So much fun it is criminal”?
Does the council agree it could actually be fuelling the problem with this venue?
A) Our concern with the Tower Lounge is separate to the issue of the EMRO.
The EMRO is about late night drinking after 3am, the Tower Lounge closes at midnight at the latest. We think at the moment shoppers and families visiting the Tower and the shops could be put off by the people using the Tower Lounge. We don’t want it to continue operating as it currently does now as it is not the right location for a bar that has daytime drinking.
Q) Has the council hired lawyers/legal representation in relation to the EMRO consultation/decision or in preparation of a legal challenge if the EMRO is approved?
If so, how much has this cost?
A) Legal advice has been sought for the licensing committee as it is expected interested parties will bring their own legal representation.
There isn’t a cost to this yet as all we have done is instruct legal representation. We won’t have the cost of this until we know how much work is.
WHY OTHER COUNCILS HAVE SAID NO TO AN EMRO
Hartlepool is among the other towns to have held a consultation into the possibility of adopting an EMRO, but councillors there threw out the proposals in May.
The town’s licensing committee rejected the plans over fears a reduction in opening hours could have serious consequences for the viability of local businesses.
Licensing committee chairman Ray Wells said they recognised “the significant improvements that have been made to the town centre in terms of reducing violence” and would consider instead using other tools “to make Hartlepool’s town centre a safer place to live, work and visit.”
In June, Northampton Council also rejected the possibility of an EMRO, also citing concerns over the financial impact on jobs and business. Bournemouth Council then confirmed it would not be seeking an EMRO.
Other towns and cities have considered the introduction of a late night levy instead.
This works by charging licensed premises which want to open in the early hours of the morning a levy based on a banding system, with around 70 per cent of the resultant revenue going to the police, and 30 per cent to the council to help pay for additional alcohol-related costs like street cleaning and marshalls.
Leeds City Council is among the authorities considering a levy.