Blackpool must rein in licensing hours if it is to restore its reputation as a safe place to live in and visit, the first day of a hearing into proposals to ban the sale of booze after 3am heard.
The resort’s police chiefs presented the council’s licensing committee with 102 statements of what they describe as “compelling evidence” the town must call time on drinking in the early hours.
Blackpool Police want the council to introduce an Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO) which would prevent alcohol being served between 3am and 6am in part of the town centre.
At the moment almost everyone arrested – 98 per cent – between those hours in that part of town is drunk, according to police figures.
Club and pub bosses, together with many leading figures in Blackpool’s tourist trade, are opposed to the order which they say would damage tourism, cost jobs and harm businesses.
Philip Kolvin, QC, representing the police, said there were witness statements “amounting to first hand accounts of the fallout” from the alcohol economy.
He said: “It represents a cold, sobering and deeply concerning testament from Blackpool people which compels recognition firstly, and a regulatory response secondly.
“We can see these insidious effects as they seep into impact on the daily lives of Blackpool people as they go about their daily business.”
The committee was given statistics compiled by the police, which show between 3am and 6am, the EMRO area accounts for 13 per cent of all violent crime in Lancashire, and 43 per cent of all violent crime in the Western Division policing area which includes Blackpool.
While violent crime as a whole is decreasing in Blackpool, in the EMRO area it has increased by 267 per cent between 2005, when drinking hours were relaxed, and 2012.
However, Mr Kolvin did not put forward absolute figures for the number of crimes.
Pub and club owners have long argued the statistics are flawed and do not account for the fact Blackpool’s biggest nightclub The Syndicate – formerly located outside the EMRO zone – has closed down and therefore the area is now busier.
They also say the EMRO is more to do with police managing their over-stretched resources – in face of budget cuts – rather than tackling real issues with alcohol abuse.
The proposed EMRO area includes Queen Street and Queen Square, Springfield Road, Promenade between New Bonny Street and Banks Street, Bank Hey Street, Market Street, Dickson Road, Talbot Road, West Street, Corporation Street, Abingdon Street, New Bonny Street and The Strand.
Mr Kolvin said of the 1,377 licensed premises in Blackpool, the EMRO would only limit the activities of about 22 of them, and of those, none would have their licence pegged back for more than two hours.
Mr Kolvin told councillors: “The EMRO will lead to some loss of business, but this is no death knell.
“If a bell is tolling, it is to tell premises to reconsider their business model.”
He added: “The council has a chance to restore Blackpool’s reputation as a safe place for families to visit and to preserve and build that element of the tourist economy.
“If in doing so, it deters that sector of the economy that wishes to drink round the clock and behave accordingly – the outcome can only be of benefit for the town, its residents and its economy.”
Blackpool’s former police commander Chief Supt Richard Debicki, said: “I think it is really important we take the opportunity for the EMRO because there are disproportionate levels of violent crime and disorder in that area.”
The committee heard evidence some holiday-makers did not even book into accommodation but just drank round the clock, with some instances of 36-hour drinking binges.
In his evidence, PC Scott McAlpine said: “Officers are still arresting people at 6am.
“Someone arrested at 10pm for being drunk the previous night has to be kicked out of the cells at 6am to make way for more people being arrested.”
He added: “After drinking until 6am, some then go to Wetherspoon’s which opens at 8am for breakfast.
“I’ve spoken to people and some don’t even book accommodation because they know they can go from one pub to another.”
Some revellers are said to come straight out of clubs to catch the earliest train home.
Edward Tunstall, a depot manager at Blackpool North Railway Station, told the hearing; “There are many people outside the front of the train station at 6am. A lot are asleep, some urinate in front of the station.”
Taxi drivers and hoteliers also gave evidence backing an EMRO.
Francis Sheridan, manager of The Metropole on Princess Parade, said guests complained about disturbances outside during the early hours.
Brian Cottey, owner of the Chaucer Guest House on High Street, said they had to keep vigilant throughout the night in case someone “threw a beer bottle at the premises.”
He said: “As I get older, the problem gets worse and my quality of life gets worse.
“People feel trepidation when they go to bed about what might come through the window at 3 or 4am.”
Taxi driver Bill Lewtas, of the Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators Association, said he believed most cabbies supported the EMRO.
He said: “The nights have got longer, you don’t earn any more money and there seems to be more drunkenness.
“I never used to drive round with my doors locked, but I do now.
“You have to ask in advance if they have the money for the fare.”
Licensees in Blackpool are opposed to the EMRO and have previously challenged the figures put forward by the police in relation to violent crime.
Lawyers representing venues including The Flamingo and Club Sanuk are due to give evidence to the committee later in the week.
Peter Bowden, the owner of Club Sanuk, says he has figures which show violent crime is more prevalent in the town centre during the day than at night.
Blackpool Pubwatch is also objecting to the EMRO and says its members are working with the authorities on alternative measures to make the town centre safer.