SHETLAND’s licensing board has agreed that Lerwick has a potential overprovision of off-licences.
Another public consultation, however, is now set to be carried out to get more evidence before the board forms a final stance on the issue.
The matter was raised again by Shetland Islands Council’s licensing board on Tuesday morning following discussions earlier this year into possible overprovision as it prepared a refreshed three-year statement of licensing policy.
NHS Shetland public health principal Elizabeth Robinson has regularly repeated the health board’s view that there are too many off-licences in Lerwick and that the link between alcohol abuse, accessibility of drink and the impact on health cannot be ignored.
The licensing forum – which features licence holders as well as bodies like the police and the NHS – and licensing standards officers also agreed there is an overprovision of off sales premises in Lerwick.
Lerwick North councillor Malcolm Bell said at Tuesday’s meeting that there has been a shift in drinking habits over the last couple of decades, with people buying more alcohol for consumption at home.
He also suggested Shetland had a problem with a lack of “quality” premises – although “there’s some signs of that beginning to change”.
The former police chief said society often “turns a blind eye” to the harmful effects of drink and said that police time is regularly used up by dealing with alcohol-related instances.
“I think we do need to take a stand,” Bell said, before successfully moving that the board notes there is potential overprovision of off sales in Lerwick.
“It’s not going to change the world overnight…but it would set a marker.”
A statement of overprovision would not stop businesses gaining an off sales licence, nor would it strip any of their permit.
Instead, it would ensure new applicants would have to do more to persuade the board to give it a licence.
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.
Figures show that the Lerwick North 04 and Lerwick North 02 areas have the highest alcohol sales in Shetland.
But the number of recorded crimes of violence, sexual offences, domestic housebreaking, vandalism, drugs offences and common assault in Lerwick North 04 is 1,143 per 10,000 people – 368 per cent of the Scottish average.
The standardised ratio of hospital stays related to alcohol misuse in Lerwick North 02, meanwhile, is 283, which places it in the top 10 per cent of neighbourhoods in Scotland.
Both of the Lerwick North areas are found in and around the centre of town.
Councillor Catherine Hughson said she felt more could be done in early intervention and education at places like schools and youth clubs.
Lerwick North member Stephen Leask admitted that it did not “augur well” with him that the overprovision statement would focus purely on the town and not rural areas, where there could be a higher rate of alcohol licences per head.
But he said he did not want to “muddy the waters” and said Lerwick could be used as a first step.
North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper echoed Bell’s words and said “we really need to deal with the culture” of drinking in Shetland.
Speaking after the meeting, board chairman councillor Ian Scott said a “very sensible decision” had been made.
But he reiterated that there is still another consultation to come before a final judgement is made on overprovision in Lerwick.
“We took on board the views and opinions of many, many groups in the islands – healthcare, legal, social,” Scott said.
“We’ve got a policy in place now and what’s just left is there’s yet to be another consultation to see whether or not Lerwick as an area is overprovided for.
“That’s still in the balance just now, and it’s up to the board to take cognisance of all entries and objections and comments and then we’ll get the decision made then.”