Blackpool’s pub bosses today warned a cheap booze price war will break out if licensing chiefs press ahead with plans for a 3am closing time.
The council’s licensing committee has agreed to go ahead with public consultation on whether to adopt an Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO).
The order would force bars and clubs in the town centre to shut no later than 3am.
But licensees fear they will have to slash drinks prices to make up for the loss of late night trade – sparking concerns over a resurgence of “speed drinking” at the end of the night as last orders approaches.
Dave Daly, who runs The Castle pub, said the average price for a weekend pint in the town is £3.50.
But he warned if the council presses ahead with its plans, pubs and clubs could soon be selling for as little as £1.50 a pint and £1 for a shot.
He told the licensing committee: “At the moment we have a pricing policy in Blackpool whereby none of the venues sell discounted drinks on a weekend. This has been in place for about 12 years and has worked really well.
“But that agreement will be ripped up as competition between venues increases due to the restricted hours.
“It will create a discount war between venues which are all fighting for the same customers.
“To get people into the town earlier, pubs will have to match the prices at supermarkets, the prices people are drinking at home on before they go out.”
He added there were fears the move would lead to people drinking faster at the end of the night – something he says the current staggered closing times has eradicated.
Blackpool Pubwatch chairman Craig Southall added: “Over the last 13 years we have worked together with the police and the council. Should the partnership break down, we have quite a worry around what we refer to as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ around pricing.”
But Chief Insp Ian Mills, of Blackpool Police, said premises would still have to act responsibly when it came to ensuring customers were not excessively drunk.
He said: “I do accept the world has changed and we have people pre-loading and drinking at home first before they come out, and I do absolutely acknowledge the current financial climate puts pressure on venues.
“However, the world has changed for the public services as well and there is increased demand on them.”
Yesterday’s decision means the proposal for an EMRO will be advertised early next month giving people until July 25 to make representations which will then go back before the licensing committee at the beginning of September.
The move is in response to increasing concerns about the impact of alcohol-fuelled disorder on the town centre.
John Donnellon, director for the built environment on Blackpool Council, said: “The problem Blackpool faces is it has a night time economy that attracts a lot of people but also brings with it a disproportionate level of alcohol related crime.”
But two of the town’s biggest club owners warned their venues would close if the EMRO went ahead.
Basil Newby, owner of Funny Girls cabaret bar and Flamingo nightclub, said: “My business won’t be here in six months time. I would shut Funny Girls and Blackpool will end up with two massive buildings being empty, and all the hotels who rely on them will be gone too.”
Peter Bowden, owner of the Sanuk nightclub on Central Prom, said: “I will go bust within two months and that will mean the loss of 70 staff – many who are young people.”
Blackpool Pubwatch had urged the committee to shelve the EMRO and look at alternative measures of making the town centre safer.
These included making more use of banning orders, reintroducing the Best Bar None incentive scheme and creating a Late Night Crime Reduction Fund.
But the committee decided to go ahead with consultation.
After the meeting, licensing chairman Coun Norman Hardy said: “The members have listened to all the evidence of the police, the council, ambulance and the trade.
“I think everyone has had the opportunity to have their say. The committee took quite some time to come to its decision but it was minded to go out to consultation so the residents of Blackpool can have their say as well.”
The EMRO would ban the sale of alcohol between 3am and 6am apart from on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, if it went ahead.
The order would not be made until September 18 at the earliest, when it would be due to go before full council.
EARLY MORNING RESTRICTION ORDER - THE FACTS
Why supporters of the EMRO want it:
Within the proposed town centre EMRO zone, the number of violent crimes has increased from 473 in 2010 to 629 in 2012.
This includes an increase from 122 to 196 between the hours of 3am and 7am.
Health chiefs say treating each drunk patient costs £1,500 if they need a hospital bed.
Paramedics are having to attend more and more calls to the town centre between 9pm and 6am, drawing resources away from the rest of the town.
But those against it say:
It will lead to up to 450 job losses from the town centre night time economy.
£12,000 has been pledged to a Late Night Crime Reduction Fund.
This could be used to help fund CCTV and taxi marshalls.