A council moratorium on new off-licences in the West End has been criticised as a “one-size fits all” approach which would penalise responsible businesses and consumers.
No new off-licences will be permitted in the West End if radical proposals from Westminster City Council aimed at tackling pre-loading are passed.
The council already operates a “stress area policy”, previously focused on the on-trade, which limits the number of licensed premises in the West End to cut crime and disorder.
The council recorded 643 confiscations of alcohol in the Leicester Square area on weekend nights last autumn. It said pre-loading may involve topping-up by purchasing alcohol in off licences near to pubs and bars.
The sale of alcohol in small quantities — miniature bottles or quarter bottles of spirits — which might easily be smuggled into clubs or bars, may also be banned.
Westminster City Council’s licensing manager, Andy Ralph, said: “We are refining and clarifying our Stress Area policy, particularly around issues of dispersal, fast food, restaurants serving alcohol without food and the operation of off-licences, in order to ensure we can continue to robustly tackle issues which can lead to alcohol-related disorder and anti-social behaviour.
“This is vital to ensure the West End continues to attract a wide range of visitors and offers a diverse and attractive night time economy.”
But Wine & Spirit Trade Association’s head of communications Gavin Partington said: “Our view is that policies to address alcohol misuse should focus on problem drinkers and premises where there is evidence to support the case. It is hard to see how Westminster can justify a one-size fits all approach that will impact the vast majority of responsible businesses and consumers in this way.”
Legal expert on licensing Peter Coulson told Harpers Wine & Spirit that the council would be “departing from official guidance” from the Home Office by restricting off-licences as well as on-licences. He added: “Unless the applicant can demonstrate their store will have no impact, which is difficult for an off-licence as they cannot prove how alcohol will be used, they will be denied.”
The proposal could become effective as early as January, after a council vote and consultation.