Pubs offered licence to party like it's 1999

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S MILLENNIUM celebrations are likely to turn into a 36- hour drinking marathon under government plans to allow pubs to stay open all night on New Year's Eve.

The plans, which could save the drinks industry pounds 28m a year by scrapping red tape, would let landlords stay open from 11am on 31 December until 11pm on 1 January, andcould remain in force for every New Year's Eve thereafter. The Government's preferred option is to allow the all-night relaxation, but it has also offered an alternative of a 4am closing time on New Year's Day.

Pubs and other licensed premises at present have to apply to local magistrates if they want an extension to their liquor licence, a procedure that the industry believes is overly bureaucratic and costly.

If public reaction to the plans is favourable, the changes will be enacted through a Deregulation Order early next year. Off-licences will not be affected.

The Home Office minister George Howarth said not all licensees would want to open all hours for the celebrations, but should be given the chance to do so if they wished. "New Year's Eve is already a special occasion for many people, and the start of the millennium will be a particularly important event," he said. "We expect the vast majority of licensed premises will want to stay open well beyond closing time.

"A general relaxation of normal hours for each New Year's Eve would remove a significant burden for the licensed trade. It would also benefit the courts and the police service who have to consider each application."

However, the Government insists that protection from nuisance will still be available to residents who do not want all-night opening in their locality.

The regulations will include a system of restriction orders, which would allow the courts to impose earlier closing times on individual premises after an application from a resident or the police. The Deregulation Order will also leave unaffected local councils' powers to refuse entertainment licences, one of the key means of preventing rowdy celebrations.

Robert Gordon Clark, the deputy chief executive of London First, the umbrella body for London businesses, said the move was welcome but long overdue.

"What we now need to do is speed up the deregulation of licensing all the year round."

The consultation period on the proposals will end on 12 December.