Drink laws 'will turn towns into Faliraki'

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The Independent Online

The Government has maintained that the police broadly support the overhaul of the licensing system in November, which will usher in flexible opening hours, as a way of ending the traditional 11pm "last orders" drinking frenzy. But the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has warned that the new rules could simply mean heavy drinking continuing into the small hours. It dismisses the Government's argument that the changes will reduce rowdiness.

In a submission to the Home Office, it warned that city, town and village centres are currently marred by disorder caused by young people who equate a good night with drinking far too much. It said: "Acpo has seen no evidence that supports the contention that by allowing operators to open for longer, we will see a change in this culture and therefore a reduction in violence and antisocial behaviour.

"One only has to look to popular holiday destinations to see the effect of allowing British youth unrestricted access to alcohol ... Experience over the last decade has shown there is a strong link between the increase in disorder and the explosion in late-night premises. The assertion that 11pm closing leads to binge-drinking is simply not supported by the evidence."

The organisation also expressed scepticism over the Government's planned Alcohol Disorder Zones, which would require licensed premises in an area blighted by drunken disorder to pay towards their policing. It said they would be difficult to "set up and maintain" and could be routinely challenged in court at considerable cost to the public purse.

The Acpo broadside was disclosed in a submission to the Home Office published yesterday. Its concerns were echoed by the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA), which warned that the Licensing Act will not tackle binge-drinking.

"The hope for staggered closing times is unlikely to become a reality. Commercial pressures will inevitably lead to the licensed premises in their own locality adopting the same closing time - midnight, 1am, 2am etc." The MPA also said the result of the new legislation would therefore be "deferred, rather than staggered closing times".

The MPA warned: "The problems caused by the combination of cheap drink and late-closing bars have been widely reported and graphically illustrated by the crowds of youths who have been quick to take advantage of lax licensing laws whilst on holiday in Mediterranean countries."

An estimated 90 per cent of pubs in England and Wales - some 47,000 - are estimated to have applied to serve until midnight or 1am at weekends. The new licences will come into force on 24 November. But critics have argued that the licensing liberation will undermine government promises to get tough on antisocial behaviour.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "The alcohol-related crime and disorder blighting our town and city centres is happening now, under the current regime. That's why it needs reforming to tackle head-on drink-fuelled violence. In fact, the Act is already delivering real progress by giving police a chance to comment on new licensing applications."

But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said yesterday: "Labour's only solution [to drink-related crime] is to unleash 24-hour drinking on our town and city centres. This will just fuel the problem."