MPs call time on city pubs to curb violence

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City centres should be stripped of pubs and bars to combat Britain's escalating binge-drinking problem which is fuelling anti-social behaviour, MPs will say this week.

City centres should be stripped of pubs and bars to combat Britain's escalating binge-drinking problem which is fuelling anti-social behaviour, MPs will say this week.

They will call for a 10-year-strategy to "design out" alcohol-related violence by replacing warehouse-style bars with a mix of restaurants and places where older people also can enjoy a night out.

This is expected to be a key recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee report into the causes of anti-social behaviour, to be published on Tuesday.

The nation's destructive relationship with drink has been blamed for a rise in violent crime and yobbish behaviour. Alcohol abusecosts the country as much as £20bn a year, a large proportion of which is borne by the NHS. Of particular concern is the rise in the number of women and younger drinkers.

Last year, the Government published its long-awaited national alcohol strategy to address the problem of excessive drinking. Proposals included stark health warnings on bottles as well as sting operations in pubs and bars to deter under-age drinking. The latest of these, which comes into effect tomorrow, is a £50 on-the-spot fine for under-age drinkers and £80 penalties for bar owners and retailers who sell drink to drunk customers.

Another move has been the relaxation of licensing laws, which allows pubs and clubs to apply to remain open for 24 hours. This is aimed at reducing the impact of rowdy behaviour in town centres, although some police forces warn it mayincrease problems.

The Home Affairs Committee is understood to back these plans in principle, but it will warn that the real reason that town centres have become no-go areas is that planners have allowed pub operators to swamp high streets. Thousands of teenagers and young people are flooding in from the suburbs, causing fights and criminal damage.

This is the legacy of policies from the Nineties when the easy way for planners to revive failing communities was to allow pub chains to open up side by side on the high street.

A source close to the committee said: "The fundamental issue is that too many people are drinking in a small place. Enforcement is fine but there will still be a problem if you have a thousand people all drinking in the same area. We need a 10-year strategy to design our way out of this."

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