The condition, outlined in the council’s new licensing policy, encourages all licensed premises to apply a minimum unit price of 50p to all alcohol products sold under their premises licence.
Although the condition is voluntary the authority warns it may begin review proceedings on any premises found to be selling alcohol below this price where there are problems. Following the review, a condition related to the pricing of alcohol may then be imposed.
The new licensing policy also encourages premises to curtail promotional offers on alcohol and may impose a restriction on the sale of super-strength beer, lager and cider, if there is evidence that the licensing objectives are being compromised.
The local authority has implemented the condition across the 400 licensed premises in the city after testing out the scheme on two bars since last September. So far the condition has been applied to four bars and three off-licences.
Stephen Savage, interim director of investment and development at Newcastle City Council, said the policy is designed to ensure quality in outlets across the city.
“We don’t want somebody to get a licence on the basis of one type of bar and immediately change it to a different concept,” he said. “One way of keeping a quality outlet is by having a minimum price. It was done under the agreement of licensed premises and everybody was quite delighted that this was the way forward on negotiation rather than enforcement.”
Savage added that the council is also restricting the display area designated to alcohol in the off-trade to prevent premises being converted into “massive off-licences”.
He confirmed the council was still in favour of enforcing a minimum unit price for alcohol across supermarkets and he did not rule out implementing this measure locally since the Government rejected plans in July.
“Minimum pricing applied to supermarkets would help pubs enormously,” he said.
Newcastle City Pubwatch chairman Damian Conway welcomed the move. “The biggest problem for the pubs across Newcastle is the off-trade selling strong alcohol at pocket-money prices,” he said. “Almost all our members sell alcohol above the suggested price, so any policy that affects the off-trade too is welcomed by us.”
However, licensing lawyer James Anderson of Poppleston Allen questioned the legality of the condition.
He said: “In practice, operators may agree minimum price conditions that they are happy to comply with to help smooth their application through. Any restriction on price or proposal to do so at a local level by agreement or not remains open to challenge in the High Court.”
The council is also the first to bring in a late-night levy for pubs.
The 10 Greater Manchester councils and Cheshire East Council are also discussing the possibility of introducing minimum pricing. The Welsh Government is “seriously considering” such a policy, and the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with plans, although the policy is still facing a legal challenge.