York ‘under threat from binge drinkers’

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POLITICIANS have claimed the multi-million pound tourism industry in one of Yorkshire’s most prized destinations is under threat from binge-drinking and alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour.

York is renowned for its plethora of drinking haunts in the city centre but grave fears have been voiced that an increasing number of bars, restaurants and takeaways are skewing the economy away from the retail sector.

Coun Brian Watson, a Labour member who represents the central Guildhall ward, maintained residents in the heart of York are enduring a catalogue of drink-fuelled problems. He claimed the notorious Micklegate Run, traditionally the domain of stag and hen parties, is being shifted to what he dubbed the Swinegate Stagger after the historic quarter in the city centre.

There are now 312 licences premises within the city walls, with 84 pubs, bars and nightclubs. The number of licensed premises across the whole city has risen to 911 from 810 only two years ago.

Coun Watson said: “Hopes of relieving anti-social behaviour problems experienced regularly by city centre residents have taken a step backward with what is likely to only add to existing problems. Litter, noise, abusive language and on occasion other unsavoury acts are what city centre dwellers have to contend with on a regular basis and will push people out rather than make the centre an attractive place to live.

“The city centre must be a place where people can let their hair down and enjoy themselves, but changes of planning use that allow more bars and restaurants mean that anti-social behaviour problems will become more commonplace.”

Coun Watson has called on a greater dialogue between planning and licensing officers at the Labour-run authority to closely control licensed premises. His concerns come after the council gave the go-ahead last week for a new bar to open in part of the former Borders book store in Little Stonegate.

He added: “The Micklegate Run is rapidly being replaced by the Swinegate Stagger and the planning system, and current licensing rules, are not allowing us to get a grip on the situation. Applicants threaten to walk away from a scheme if we won’t give them the opening hours they want, and basically hold us to ransom. I am concerned that the core of the city is losing important retail space to licensed premises, and that will change the face of the city centre for years to come.”

The Yorkshire Post revealed on Saturday that North Yorkshire’s new Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan is being urged to ensure crime-fighting resources are maintained. A motion will be put forward at a full council meeting today which will seek to garner her support, especially for a forthcoming crime summit centred on tackling the issue of alcohol misuse. The need to contain crime is seen as vital to ensuring York’s tourism industry is preserved. A total of 7.1m visitors bring in £443m to the local economy each year.

There have been long-running concerns over binge-drinking and in 2005 it emerged 18,000 women and 30,000 men were consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of alcohol, with an estimated 2,400 cases of criminal damage a year being blamed on drink-fuelled vandals.

The council’s assistant director for housing and community safety, Steve Waddington, stressed each licensing application is considered on its “own merits”, with discussions with agencies including North Yorkshire Police and the fire authority as well as public consultations.

He added: “York city centre is a thriving commercial location whose success we support, and is also one of the UK’s safest city centres thanks to partner working.”

email paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk