Super-strength drinks may face ban from sale to curb trouble

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High-strength alcohol could be banned from sale in shops in a major Yorkshire city centre in a bid to crack down on nuisance drinking.

Council chiefs at Leeds City Council have voted to consider removing low cost, “super strength” alcohol from off-licences and supermarkets in the city centre to try and reduce anti-social behaviour and improve the area’s image.

If introduced, retailers would be invited to voluntarily sign up to the scheme.

The scheme has been a success elsewhere, with a pilot in Ipswich having yielded good results.

More recently Wakefield decided to restrict alcohol sales in the city centre in a bid to drive down bad behaviour.

Super-strength booze would be defined as cheap lagers, beers and ciders which have an alcohol volume of 6.5 per cent or higher.

The scheme aims to target anti-social behaviour caused by people with alcohol dependency problems, also known as “street drinkers”.

Leeds City Council’s licensing committee heard city centre hotspots included the bus station, New York Street, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Mill Hill and Mecca Bingo Hall.

Councillors heard Ipswich had seen two-thirds of shops take part in the scheme.

Ipswich has seen a 50 per cent reduction in alcohol related violent crime and anti-social behaviour in the town and the super strength booze ban was one of a number of schemes around alcohol dependency credited with the reduction.

Susan Holden, head of licensing and registration on Leeds City Council, suggested the council talks with partners in health and treatment centres, as well as its anti-social behaviour teams and community safety teams to look into the wider issue to “ensure we are doing what is best for the city of Leeds”.

However councillor Ryk Downes (Lib Dem, Otley and Yeadon) has questioned how “high strength”alcohol would be defined, to make sure responsible drinkers are not penalised, admitting his “drink of choice” was high-strength, but expensive, beer.

The committee was also told that Wakefield had taken the view that the ban would cover cheap booze sold in plastic bottles or cans.

Sgt David Shaw, of West Yorkshire Police’s licensing team, told the committee they had had success in working with off-licences on targeting anti-social behaviour in the past, such as distributing photos of problem drinkers.

He added: “I think with these proposals, together with the other measures, as organisations we are heading in the right direction.”

The council has previously sought to ban street drinking in a number of areas in Leeds, with booze bans having been brought in for the city centre and parts of Headingley in recent years.

Those who flout the ban could be liable for fines of up to £500.

Around 60 per cent of violent crime across Leeds is said to be linked to alcohol, while nationally the annual cost of booze-related disorder is estimated to be £20bn.

The plan to ban follows on from a police and council initiative to try and improve the image of the city centre by launching a crackdown on people illegally begging in the city centre.

The blitz on begging in Leeds targeted a hard core of beggars, in many cases people who were not homeless, who conned people out of cash with fictitious sob stories or used intimidation to make money to spend on drink and drugs.

Begging has been illegal since the Vagrancy Act of 1824 and police revealed that many of the people panhandling for change on the streets had somewhere to live and were claiming benefits.

Others scams included falsely claiming that charities such as St George’s Crypt charge £10 for meals, claims of having had wallets or handbags stolen and needing change to get home, while others used dogs to avoid arrest because it costs police a fortune to put animals in a kennel.