Drinking climate's changing

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing act Drinking culture

Charity: Licensing Act has played its part in calming city centres
Charity: Licensing Act has played its part in calming city centres
It's almost five years since the Licensing Act came into force, and evidence suggests drinking habits have evolved, says The PMA Team.

The Morning Advertiser has jumped the gun slightly this week by asking trade figures to reflect on how the Licensing Act 2003 has played out.

We're still six months away from reaching its half-decade anniversary of implementation. But we couldn't resist seeking out a bit of perspective on what the new licensing regime has actually meant, given the near-hysterical tone of a lot of the public rhetoric that flies around.

The tabloids, led by the Daily Mail, continue to huff and puff about streets awash with drink-sodden and — in the vast majority of images used — under-dressed revellers. The Government is schizophrenic in tolerating below-cost alcohol in supermarkets and driving Draconian crackdowns on the on-trade, with wave after wave of initiatives backed up by fresh legislation. Mandatory conditions that only apply in the on-trade are the latest example (the search for a dentist's chair, with customers having alcohol poured down their throats, continues).

Our respondents talked of more red tape and additional costs of local authority control of licensing. Others acknowledged it would be churlish not to be thankful for the extra hour or two of late-trading flexibility the Act brought (but this sensible piece of flex didn't need the full apparatus of legislation to have been enacted).

But anyone who looks hard at our town and city centres will surely notice one other very important thing: the Licensing Act has clearly played its part, as was hoped, in calming the circuit. The addition of late-drinking options, in town centres and in suburban pubs, has helped take the heat out of many flash-points that occurred when options were so much more limited.

The Licensing Act was intended to herald the start of a burgeoning Continental-style café culture. This was, of course, the talk of people who had drunk too much pastis. But what we've had is a proliferation of options leading to a fragmentation of the circuit crowd that would swoop and dive between bars and nightclubs with the speed and regimentation of flocks of starlings.

Other factors are at play: the rise of cheap supermarket booze, the diminution of the pull of the circuit by dint of relatively-low investment levels, and cash-strapped students and others hit by the recession.

But the landscape is changing — evidence is all about us. Fewer people are arriving in the super-sized nightclubs at the end of the big nights out; over-heated town centres are quieter as a result of an undermining of the monopoly on late-night power held by certain operators; younger people seem increasingly unwilling to form a weekend mob, touring high-energy pubs and bars.

There's more research needed here to turn the anecdotal into evidence-based and proven trends. Major behavioural change tends to be a slow-moving phenomenon, but it feels to me like there is major drinking climate change in train.

Related topics Legislation

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