We will not stay open 36 hours, say publicans

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It seems the country's politicians have more faith in people's ability to drink themselves silly than its publicans.

It seems the country's politicians have more faith in people's ability to drink themselves silly than its publicans. Most of those hoping to take advantage of the special New Year's Eve extension of licensing laws this morning would have found few pubs staying open for 36 hours, despite official permission.

"No one is that desperate that they want a pint at five in the morning," said Eddie Gershon of JD Wetherspoon, which was closing most of its establishments around midnight.

The Government announced last month that those choosing to celebrate the onset of 2002 in in a longer than usual alcoholic haze could do so. Kim Howells, a minister in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said pubs and clubs could open from 11am yesterday to 11pm today, as long as neighbours did not object. But yesterday Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, which welcomed the announcement as a "welcome step forward", admitted he could not name a single pub taking full advantage of the offer.

"Thirty-six hours is an enormously long time and employing staff would be extremely costly." Some pubs would open until one or two, and clubs a few hours more, he said.

"We think it is a victory for common sense and people aren't abusing it, they are just responding to consumer demand. Our argument is always that there should be greater flexibility. It works effectively in Scotland and there is no reason it shouldn't be introduced here."

Only once before in recent years have venues been allowed to open late without having to apply for an individual licence – on Millennium Eve. For some, one crunch was enough.

Lesley Lewis, of the French House in London's West End, said: "Millennium Eve was so scary we've decided we don't want to do this again. We're only a little pub, so we would rather be safe than sorry. We're taking the coward's way out and shutting at eight, I'm afraid."

Even those hoping to disappear off to the capital's famous Smithfield Market pubs, which open early, were likely to be out of luck. "We are closed till 6.30am on Wednesday," staff at the Sir Loin pub said, adding that they were there for market traders, not clubbers.

David McGuigan, of McGuigans Bar in Coventry, said: "All you'll get after a certain time is people out of their heads with nowhere to go. We might open till four or five on New Year's Day but the existing 16-hour day is long enough."

Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, said: "The real horror would be 36-hour drinking, something we do not want to promote. As an industry, we do not want to be associated with rowdiness and drunkenness. We want people to disperse peacefully, with the warm feeling that they've had a bloody good evening. We're not trying to encourage a culture of getting as much beer down your neck as possible."

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