Aisha Iqbal: Police are not our binge-drinker babysitters

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Do you remember that 1990s game show where the host often asked ‘what is a hotspot not?’ and the audience shouted ‘not a good spot’?

Well, that’s exactly how I feel about Leeds city centre’s binge drinking ‘hotspots’.

Surely there’s universal benefit in ensuring these booze ‘red zones’ don’t become no-go zones for the majority?

The drinks trade is undoubtedly a great financial contributor to the city’s success.

But for every party animal the city’s hedonism hotspots draw in, how many families and couples and other groups with cash to spend do they drive away from the city centre?

I’m not a party-pooper by any stretch of the imagination and like to partake of the city’s revelry offer as much as the next person.

As long as the next person is not a lager lout in waiting who just needs that one extra shot to send them from jovial to vicious.

The city’s binge drinking issue was brought home again at a meeting at Leeds Civic Hall this week, where the forces of good and evil collided, and our law enforcement heroes squared up to the demon of drink and the seemingly unchecked havoc it regularly causes in our city centre.

I exaggerate of course, and there are lots of regulations in place to ensure that premises selling alcohol in the city do so responsibly. Most of them do, I am sure.

However, if they are all sticking to their end of the bargain, why do we find ourselves in the situation we are in?

West Yorkshire Police reports that alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder in Leeds city centre has shot up by 40 per cent in the last year or so.

That is a staggering rise.

The soaring rates of trouble have led the authorities to adopt a pretty hardline approach, and any new applications (or requests for extended hours) for alcohol-selling venues in the city’s ‘red zone’ areas are now routinely refused unless the applicant can produce overwhelming evidence that their business WON’T contribute to the troubles.

I do agree to some extent with one recently disappointed restaurant business which had its application to extend its licensable activity by an hour thrown out.

It seems a little unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. And surely there has to be a difference in treatment of venues which sell 2-for-1 cocktails into the dawn hours - and make a gimmick out of pouring drink down people’s throats on the dance floor - and the restaurants trying to supplement their food trade?

I’m realistic enough to know that no big metropolitan city like ours can thrive without a vibrant and noisy night time economy, and the alcohol trade is part and parcel of that.

I wouldn’t want to see any overly punitive measures which would hit hardworking and valuable small and medium businesses.
But surely there’s something of universal benefit in ensuring these booze ‘red zones’ don’t become no-go zones for the majority?

The most frustrating thing of all is the huge police and emergency resources expended on marshalling the city centre on Friday and Saturday nights.

At a time when our public sector services are increasingly under pressure from funding cuts and dwindling resources, it makes no sense at all that they are being wasted on people who are - of their own free will - getting...wasted.

The police are there to protect us, not to babysit binge drinkers and boozed up thugs.

Maybe I’m just getting old and boring. And I know rounding up drunkards has always been part of the bobby’s job. But there’s a huge difference between putting the village drunk in the cells overnight, and spending valuable, finite resources on dealing with completely avoidable thuggery.

It all comes down to responsibility, ultimately.

Police have a responsibility to protect us, yes, but we all have a responsibilty to help them make our city centres welcoming, non-intimidating and trouble-free places.