A DECISION from Shetland Islands Council's licensing board on whether it believes there are any areas of overprovision of alcohol in the isles has been deferred to allow members more time to discuss the matter.
The board agreed at its latest meeting on Tuesday to schedule a joint meeting with Shetland's licensing forum, which includes a range of representatives including NHS Shetland, to get more clarity on the issue.
NHS Shetland believes there are too many off-licence premises in Lerwick, causing a negative affect on health, while the licensing forum said the number of off-licence premises per head of population in the town "gives rise to concern and could be construed as overprovision".
It added that this appeared to have a "negative impact to the health of the local population".
Council lawyer Susan Brunton stressed at Tuesday's meeting that including a statement of overprovision in the licensing policy would not mean a blanket ban on new licences being approved, with each case judged on its own merits.
The meeting also heard that statements of overprovision could be applied to certain parts of a local authority area, or even just one street, for example.
Board members were asked to conclude, in light of the evidence put forward in the consultation, if there were any areas of overprovision in Shetland which they wished to note in their policy statement.
Papers submitted to the consultation exercise showed that Shetland has 152 licensed premises, with Lerwick accounting for 39. In the town there are 16 on sales, 12 off sales and 11 on/off sales premises.
In addition to the off sales and supermarkets, Lerwick's pool of licensed premises also includes two public halls, five hotels, five pubs, 11 restaurants and four venues described as nightclubs.
Licensing board vice chairman George Smith said he felt residents groups and community councils should have a greater say in the matter.
The consultation received responses from NHS Shetland, the licensing forum, Alcohol Focus Scotland and Delting Community Council, which wanted more clarity on the definition of overprovision in a local area.
The issue of alcohol consumption, rather than provision, was raised by North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper.
"There's a far bigger problem here that needs to be dealt with," he said.
Cooper reaffirmed that drinking at home is a problem area. "Streamline takes in hundreds of boxes of wine a month, I suspect."
Smith said the "nub" of the problem was the "amount of drink that's able to be bought and consumed off premises" - which can have a knock-on effect on health and family life.
Councillor Malcolm Bell said that while there is a "massive problem" with drinking in Shetland, he did not want to see the quality of the isles' premises reduced, with his Lerwick North colleague Stephen Leask adding that the varying "calibre" of establishments needs to be taken into account.
NHS Shetland public health principal Elizabeth Robinson said in the health board's consultation response that it would welcome if the "onus is on the person or organisation applying for an alcohol licence to demonstrate in their application for a licence the ways in which they will be upholding the five licensing objectives".
Those objectives are: preventing crime and disorder, securing public safety, preventing public nuisance, protecting and improving public health and protecting children from harm.
A motion proposed by Smith to schedule the joint meeting with the licensing forum, and to ensure a representative from NHS Shetland attends, was passed.
The board has until 4 November to implement a new three-year licensing statement as a new policy needs to be in place within 18 months of each local election.