Plans to sell alcohol as early as 6am in Blackpool have sparked anger from police and health chiefs.
Applications for two Tesco Express stores – on Whitegate Drive and Ansdell Road – in the resort to extend their current licences have met with fierce objection.
Critics say the move would only worsen the drink problem in the town, which has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the country.
Mark Marshall, licensing enforcement officer at Blackpool Council, said: “I believe outlets that serve alcohol very early in the morning could be vulnerable to approach by street drinkers and alcohol dependent people.”
And community leaders, who say they are already battling problems including begging and vagrancy, fear the move could lead to more alcohol-fuelled behaviour.
Enforcement action in the town centre has pushed many problem drinkers to the fringes of the inner areas.
But Tesco says it is a responsible retailer and measures will be taken to ensure any increased licensing hours do not exacerbate issues.
A town hall hearing to decide the application is due to be held on Tuesday May 23.
Mark Marshall, licensing enforcement officer at Blackpool Council, says in a report to the hearing: “One of the trends that has been noticed is that enforcement activity is displacing the problems out to the margins of the town, and I believe outlets that serve alcohol very early in the morning could be vulnerable to approach by street drinkers and alcohol dependent people, many of whom start their day early and arrive in town before 8am.”
Both outlets are also in areas covered by the council’s off licence saturation policy.
This covers Blackpool’s most deprived wards - Bloomfield, Clarement, Talbot and Victoria – and means applicants must prove changes to their licence will not contravene licensing objectives.
The Whitegate Drive store is in Talbot ward, while the Ansdell Road store is in Victoria ward.
Sergeant Helen Parkinson, of Blackpool police licensing department, says in her submission to the hearing they have ‘huge concerns’ the earlier hours could have a ‘significant impact on crime and disorder and public nuisance’.
She adds “any increase in availability of alcohol at an earlier time is likely to attract vagrants and street drinkers”.
A number of residents groups have also objected to the application in relation to the Whitegate Drive store.
David Slattery-Christy, of Whitegate Community Group, says: “Tesco already has adequate hours for selling alcohol, and to extend those hours will only increase anti-social behaviour on the drive beyond what exists already.”
Talbot ward councillor Mark Smith said problems with beggars were regularly raised at the local PACT (police and community together) meeting.
He said: “A number of individuals are currently subject to criminal behaviour orders (CBOs) from issues detected in 2015 and 2016.
“One is a high profile and problematic beggar. This male is chaotic, aggressive, drug and alcohol dependent and was deemed a high enough risk to be banned from the town centre area by virtue of a CBO.”
Two years ago the council urged off-licence owners not to sell booze before 9am in a bid to crack down on problem street drinkers. They were also asked to store high strength alcohol behind the counter and not to sell single bottles as part of a new code of practice which Blackpool Council asked traders to sign up to.
Dave Blacker, chairman of Talbot ward PACT, who has also worked on alcohol-related projects in Blackpool, said: “It’s not we have anything against Tesco, but there are already enough outlets for people to get alcohol from at any time of day without adding to it.
“We are at saturation point. People in Blackpool are suffering due to the availability of cheap alcohol and it is also having an effect on crime.”
Tesco said it wanted to bring its licensing hours in line with other stores.
A spokesman said: “We submitted an application to bring our alcohol trading hours in line with our store opening hours.
“As part of any application we listen to feedback and engage with local stakeholders and as a result of this will be making revisions to the application.”
Within its application it says a manager would be on the premises at all times, CCTV is in place and staff are trained to understand the responsibilities around selling alcohol.
In addition “employees are made aware of the need to have regard to the surrounding area and be aware of the needs of any local resident”.