Westminster plans radical off-trade clampdown

By James Wilmore

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Westminster, Westminster city council, Soho, West end of london, City of westminster

The UK's largest licensing authority is planning a freeze on off-trade licences and a curb on the sale of small bottles of spirits, after recognising...

The UK's largest licensing authority is planning a freeze on off-trade licences and a curb on the sale of small bottles of spirits, after recognising the growing problem of pre-loading.

In a radical move, Westminster City Council, which licences more than 3,000 venues, is preparing to move over concerns about the explosion in the number of off-licences.

It has previously cited 643 public nuisance incidents in six nights which could be blamed on pre-loading.

Westminster's plan gives hope to the pub industry that the authorities are increasingly aware of the problems caused by shops and supermarkets selling alcohol.

Westminster wants to include the off-trade in its current West End "stress area", which means new off-trade licences will be refused unless it is "exceptional circumstances".

Under current government policy, councils are recommended not to include the off-trade in cumulative impact policies, where an area is designated a hotspot.

in its new licensing policy, Westminster said it will also consider clamping down on sales of alcohol in small quantities after 7pm, "such as miniatures or quarter bottles of spirits, that may be easily smuggled into licensed premises".

"The policy on off-sales in the West End Stress area is proposed to be made explicitly more restrictive to reduce pre-loading and topping-up with alcohol on a night out," an introduction to the policy review states.

The Westminster Licensees Association has welcomed the council's recognition of problems caused by the off-trade. In its response to the review, seen by The Publican​, the group said it was "pleased to support Westminster's lead in trying to address new measures" to tackle the problem.

Kate Nicholls, the WLA's secretary, said: "This is the first time I've seen a licensing authority raise the point that they don't have enough controls over the off-trade, so we are fully behind them on this."

Hopes of this type of action being picked up by other councils have also been raised.

The WLA said: "We would be willing to support a joint lobbying approach from Westminster Council and the trade to give local authorities greater powers and discretion to regulate off-sales and hence minimise the adverse public order effects."

However the WLA also voiced its concern that Westminster's licensing policy was still "overly restrictive".

Craig Livingstone, licensee at the Crown & Two Chairmen, in Soho, said any clampdown on the off-trade would be "great".

"We are bang in the city centre, and we get people heading off to Soho Square with a carry-out then coming in to us, so that would be great for us in those circumstances.

"It's a good idea, but I wouldn't count my chickens that it will change much."

A Westminster Council spokesman said: "We are refining and clarifying our stress area policy, particularly around issues of dispersal, fast food, restaurants serving alcohol without food and the operation of off-licences, in order to ensure we can continue to robustly tackle issues which can lead to alcohol-related disorder and anti-social behaviour."

Related topics: Legislation

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