City pubs set to see time called on late-night drinking culture

PUBS in Edinburgh are set to have their opening hours cut and a limit imposed on how many people can stand with their drinks.

City chiefs want to slash weekday opening hours from 1am to midnight and at the same time force pubs to provide seats for at least 50 per cent of drinkers.

The new rules, which are aimed at combating alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour, could come into force within months.

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But they were today branded "ridiculous" by licence trade leaders who say drinkers have been standing in Edinburgh bars for generations with no problems.

The new licensing policy has been drawn up by council officials and backed by city leaders.

It says "vertical drinking establishments" - pubs and clubs which have little or no seating for customers - have a "significant bearing on the likelihood of crime and disorder".

Officials say they should be forced to provide 50 per cent seating space and door staff told to be "particularly vigilant" about the numbers going in.

On pub opening hours, the report says Edinburgh's current policy has "served the city well" but "requires to be given further consideration".

Edinburgh's licensing convener, Liberal Democrat councillor Marjorie Thomas, said she believed the proposed changes would help tackle antisocial behaviour.

She acknowledged Edinburgh's reputation for a liberal approach to licensing, but said: "A lot of people feel the situation has gone a bit too far one way and perhaps we should be taking a little step back and seeing if this has any affect on people's behaviour."

And she said there was no plan to cut back on Friday and Saturday opening.

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She also supported the 50 per cent seating rule and said other licensing boards had suggested no "vertical drinking" at all.

But Paul Waterson, chairman of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, slammed the policy.

He said: "The stuff about vertical drinking sounds ridiculous and it is ridiculous. The theory is if people are standing in pubs they are more likely to cause trouble. We don't believe that."

The new draft licensing policy, which all licensing boards are required to draw up under the 2005 Licensing Act, will be discussed by the city's licensing board on Monday. If agreed, it will go out for consultation, with the new rules and hours in force in November.

Labour councillor Eric Barry, who is on the board, said he was against cutting the licensing hours and argued week nights were not the problem anyway. He said: "I'm a taxi driver and I've worked nights for 28 years. The problems are not Sunday-Thursday. It's late on Saturdays."

But he said a blanket cut in hours meant everyone suffered because of the bad behaviour of a minority.

"We've just enjoyed an extra two hours' late opening during the Festival and many of the people out making use of it were Edinburgh folk having a good time and doing it responsibly.

"It would be a shame if a problem with a few people means everyone is stopped from drinking. We should be looking at individual premises which allow people to get blind drunk."

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He gave qualified support to plans to deal with so-called vertical drinking establishments.

"We want to encourage more of a cafe culture and civilised drinking rather than swallowing as much as you can."

But he said extra seating could bring problems. "If you have a hall, seats have to linked for fire safety.

"If you have dozens of extra seats just loose, you could have people tripping up all over the place."

The new policy would still allow a general extension of hours at the Festival if the board considered it appropriate. It proposes the new opening hours should be:

• Midnight for most licensed premises, Sunday-Thursday

• 1am the following day for most licensed premises, Friday and Saturday

• 3am the following day for most licensed premises offering dance entertainment or restaurant facilities

• 1am the following day for most licensed premises offering adult entertainment.