Vicar's fears over new drinking laws

By James MortlockA WORRIED vicar has told of his concern that the relaxation of the licensing laws could lead to more drink problems and pile extra pressure on police.

By James Mortlock

A WORRIED vicar has told of his concern that the relaxation of the licensing laws could lead to more drink problems and pile extra pressure on police.

The Rev Max Osborne, vicar of All Saints in Newmarket, spoke out as a town nightclub, a major supermarket and a pub all applied for changes in their licences to be able to sell alcoholic drinks for longer.

The traditional 11pm closing time is set to end in November when the new licences come in to effect.

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Ministers have said scrapping the 11pm closing will cut binge drinking and encourage a new continental-style cafe culture. It would also reduce violence by preventing revellers all heading home at the same time.

Newmarket's Tesco store wants to sell drinks throughout its 24-hour trading period - at present drinks shelves are roped off outside normal licensing hours.

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De Niro's nightclub in Newmarket, which has capacity for almost 2,000 people, has also applied to stay open until 4am - two hours longer than the current closing time - and the Cherry Tree pub in the town's Exning Road is asking for a licence until 1am.

Mr Osborne, who has spoken against a plan for a lap-dancing club in the town, said: "An extension of drinking hours does concern me.

"As chaplain to the police I have been out with them on Friday and Saturday nights and there is evidence that some people are drinking excessively, causing danger to themselves and others.

"I believe this will exacerbate the problem and put pressure on our hard-pressed services. The existing law is more safe and secure for the community than these changes."

He warned later licences would also be likely to increase noise and disturbance for residents and doubted the current relaxation in the licensing laws would not result in more Continental attitudes to drinking.

"I think most people drink sensibly, but I think there will always be an element which abuses the law," said Mr Osborne.

"Rather than ease the problem, this will extend it, putting more pressure on the police, who I am sure would much rather be dealing with bigger issues such as the drug culture we have today."

The Association of Chief Police Officers has already warned that British town centres may resemble infamous holiday party-spots like the Greek resort Faliraki when the new licensing laws are introduced.

It warned allowing bars and pubs to open later would actually mean more people on the streets and longer opening hours were unlikely to mean more civilised drinking.

Simon Stevens, a spokesman for Suffolk police, said it shared theses concerns, but would continue to work closely with both councils and licensees to get the balance right.

"Suffolk is a safe county, but Suffolk Constabulary remains determined to tackle violent crime in public places and continue to treat it as a priority," he said.

"We will continue to work with partner organisations through ongoing initiatives such as Nightsafe to ensure our town centres remain safe places."

Forest Heath District Council's licensing sub-committee will be discussing the Newmarket applications over the coming weeks, starting today with the Cherry Tree's request.

A Tesco spokeswoman said most of its stores that trade 24 hours a day would be seeking round-the- clock licensing and staff would be trained to prevent sales to under-age youngsters.

No-one from De Niro's or Cherry Tree pub was available for comment.

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