Publicans set to reject round the clock opening

Licensing Most chains say it's too expensive to open all night
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The Independent Online
The Rainbow pub stands next to a steel-shuttered warehouse on a noisy artery road which links the centre of Birmingham to its outlying suburban sprawl. The pub offers its customers - a mix of die-hard drinkers and trendy urbanites - live music, dancing and a set menu.

But the Rainbow is no ordinary venue: it is set to be one of the first pubs in Britain to offer round-the-clock drinking under a controversial change in licensing laws.

From tomorrow publicans can apply to their local councils for the first time for 24-hour licences as outlined in the 2003 Licensing Act, which comes into force in November.

Ministers are desperate to tackle Britain's reputation as the binge-drinking capital of Europe and believe introducing staggered closing times will reduce the rise in anti-social behaviour associated with excessive drinking.

This has led to an outcry from some police forces as well as medical experts, including the Royal College of Physicians, who say the reforms will have the opposite effect, with thousands of bars and pubs overflowing with intoxicated men and women at all hours.

Even the drinks industry itself, which has been criticised for selling larger measures and introducing two-for-the-price-of-one drink promotions, has attacked the Government's plans.

This vision of a nation gripped by alcoholism is one shared by more than two-thirds of the public, according to an ICM poll published last month. In a survey of more than 1,000 people, 67 per cent of respondents said that anti-social behaviour would escalate and Britain would be a worse place to live with the introduction of 24-hour drinking.

However, the reality is rather different. Avery Taverns which owns the Rainbow, in Digbeth, will be one of only a handful of pub operators to take advantage of the new extended opening hours by applying for a 24- hour licence.

Most pub operators are planning only to extend their hours until 1am or 2am.

A survey by the British Beer and Pub Association of more than 30,500 pubs in England and Wales has found that none of its members intended to apply for 24-hour licences. The reason is that licensees would have to find money to pay the wages of extra staff so they could meet the demands of what they anticipate would be only a handful of extra customers.

JD Wetherspoon, one of Britain's largest pub operators, is still finalising its plans, but it has already ruled out unlimited drinking times. Instead, the company plans to apply for flexible opening hours, probably until 1am or 2am on busy nights.

"We will only open if there is demand, and generally we are not in favour of 24-hour opening," said a spokesman.

Like other pubs, the Rainbow already holds a special licence to stay open until 2am although it usually stops serving drinks at 1am. It is surrounded by trading estates, car dealerships and the odd adult bookstore, so does not have the problem of residents complaining about the noise. With its modern furniture and film nights, most of its clientele come from a hip area.

The pub begins to fill after 5pm. By 9pm the doormen have taken up their posts and the loud beat from the band thumps out. By 1am it is standing room only, but by 2am there are only a handful of stragglers left behind.

Chris Mcloughlin, one of the Rainbow's three licensees, says staggered opening times are a good idea. "It's good to give people the option to stay out if they want to."

His colleague Fuzz Townsend is against the Rainbow becoming a 24-hour pub. "Who wants to be the pub that everyone goes to when they're howling pissed?"



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