Brighton's zone will stifle pubs

Related tags Saturation zone Public house City The police

A consultation in Brighton is drawing to a close this week on whether the city should press ahead with the biggest saturation zone yet seen in this...

A consultation in Brighton is drawing to a close this week on whether the city should press ahead with the biggest saturation zone yet seen in this country.

Police and a few residents associations are calling for a zone covering four square kilometres of the city centre. A saturation zone would make any new pub prove that it would not hinder the licensing objectives, such as preventing crime and disorder. Meanwhile, "café bar-style establishments" would be looked upon favourably and would not be unduly affected by a cumulative impact policy.

Brighton city council would effectively be taking a blanket approach to every pub application. It has failed to notice that the dividing line between pubs and café bars has narrowed, with both types of establishment in Brighton now tending to have wide-ranging food, coffee and soft-drinks offers.

Only the city's West Street drinking circuit has the kind of concentration of pubs that would merit a saturation zone. Yet the council wants to hinder the development of pubs through a vast swathe of the city centre. It's hardly forward-thinking for a city that has become one of the most exciting, diverse, cosmopolitan places in the country.

By limiting competition, Brighton runs the risk of not enjoying the stimulus of new operators any city of this size needs. And by blocking new openings, the city creates a safety net for those poor operators who would otherwise be forced out of business by new competition. And existing leases have their values artificially inflated by creating scarcity value.

The police and local authorities have a wide range of powers to crackdown on premises that are being run badly. Why not focus on stepping up action on those places rather than building a road block that keeps new ideas at the proverbial city gates?

Police say the wide-ranging character of Brighton's saturation zone stems from a desire to stop operators moving away from the hot spots into secondary positions. If there's one lesson learned from the 2003 Licensing Act, it's that a staggered dispersal of punters, geographically and in terms of going-home time, presents fewer policing problems.

Indeed, it's been admitted that alcohol-related problems have reduced since the start of the new licensing regime. It's a retrograde step to create an artificial market in on-trade licences rather than work with the good operators - and act against those who refuse to put their public house in order.

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