A MARKET town which once vied for the title of the UK’s pub capital – with more licensed premises for its size than any other town – could soon have its numbers of drinking establishments effectively capped.
Leeds City Council’s licensing bosses want to restrict late opening watering holes in Otley after fears of increasing crime and anti social behaviour were raised by police.
It follows an application by one pub to serve alcohol until 4am, leading to a fear that there may be a ‘creep’ upwards in requests for later opening times.
Supporters say any new restrictions would be designed to ensure Otley remains a vibrant market town with a proud and thriving pub trade – and does not descend into a 24-hour party town.
However, there are also concerns that any tightening of rules could be seen as “heavy handed”, especially as the changes would allow councillors more freedom to refuse new licence applications.
Council officers have drawn up initial plans for a ‘cumulative impact policy’ (CIP), effectively a safeguard allowing licensing bosses to refuse new applications and requests for extended hours.
Similar schemes already operate in Chapel Allerton and Headingley.
Otley currently has 42 premises licensed to sell alcohol, with 17 pubs and 30 “on-licenced” pubs, bars and restaurants in total. The latest current opening time is 2.30am.
Liberal Democrat ward councillor for Otley, Ryk Downes, who is backing the move, said licensing policy as its stands makes it “very difficult” to resist new applications as long as they tick all the boxes.
“We don’t want to stop people drinking,” he said. “It’s about putting down a marker.
“We don’t want to destroy the pub trade, we just want to say to people, ‘if you want to drink until 4am, go to Leeds, there are plenty of opportunities’.
“We can foresee that if you get a creep up, you could end up with someone wanting to open 24 hours a day.
“Otley has a proud history. There is very little trouble and it is a good place to come and drink responsibly.
“But we don’t want it to become the party capital of Yorkshire. That’s not suitable for a place like Otley.”
The cumulative impact policy, if it is pushed through, does not in itself stop new pubs and bars from opening. However, it allows decision-makers greater flexibility in approving or refusing applications.
John Rowe, from real ale campaign group CAMRA, said there could be benefits to the scheme “as long as it is curtailing binge drinking rather than the pub trade”.
“The public house trade is pretty well-run in the Otley area,” he said. “It’s not the pubs that you get problems in, it’s the late night bars, and because of cheap alcohol in supermarkets.
“(The new policy) could be a good thing as long as it’s not to the detriment of pubs that sell real ale.”
At a meeting of Leeds City Council’s licensing panel this week, there was broad support for the policy, however there were also concerns.
“Otley has always been known as having a ‘rough and tumble’ atmosphere, especially at weekends,” the panel was told. “Are we being too heavy handed? Could the ‘creep’ of hours not be addressed rather than having to go through the rigmarole of a CIP?”
Further investigations will now be made before a fuller proposal comes back to the panel for consideration.
According to recent figures from CAMRA, 26 pubs across the country close every week. Latest regional figures show 177 pubs shut for business and another 98 were opened across North and North East England between September 2012 and March last year.
More than 500,000 people are currently employed in the pub industry, which CAMRA claims adds £19bn to the UK economy.