Council / No overprovision of off-licences in town for now, board decides

SHETLAND’s licensing board has decided against including a statement in its policy that Lerwick has an overprovision of off sales premises selling alcohol.

Members of the board were told on Tuesday, however, that guidance from Scottish ministers on overprovison is in the process of being updated – with councillors open to reconsidering their decision depending on what the fresh advice says.

The Shetland Islands Council board decided back in October to seek the public’s views on the matter and gather evidence after ruling that Lerwick may have had an overprovision of off-licences.

An overprovision statement would not have stopped businesses gaining an off sales licence, nor would it have stripped any of their permit. Instead, it would have ensured new applicants would have to do more to persuade the board to give it a licence.

Only one response to the consultation was received, however, with Brudolff Hotel Group – which owns the town’s Wine Shop as well as a handful of hotels – writing in to say it felt there was no overprovision.

The company’s Robert Smith said declaring an overprovision in Lerwick would be a “hugely retrograde step in seeking Shetland to be part of the modern world” as it would restrict the private sector and be unlikely to change consumption habits.

The board was particularly keen to receive views from the general public living in Lerwick, but no one submitted a response.

Councillor Catherine Hughson reiterated at Tuesday’s board meeting that she felt early intervention was more important than overprovison policy, highlighting the work done around alcohol and drugs in schools.

“I don’t think the overprovision statement would change much,” she admitted.

Her views were backed by fellow councillors, with George Smith saying it would not make “huge odds” to the issue of alcohol consumption.

North Mainland member Alastair Cooper suggested the bigger problem was people drinking at home.

“I don’t think it will deal with the alcohol consumption in Shetland, which has historically been quite heavy,” he said.

Members agreed to keep the policy statement as it is for the time being and said they were open to reconsidering the issue of overprovision when the updated government guidance is released.

Smith said overprovision will continue to be taken into account when considering any new licence applications.

Chairman Ian Scott later said the board has had a “fairly long and complicated discussion” on the matter over the last number of months.

“The board decided today that there wasn’t an overprovision in the Lerwick area of off sales,” he said.

“It’s a difficult one – it’s really hard to decide and to specify that exactly overprovision is.

“There’s going to be government advice coming out in the future and if it materially affects what we’re doing and what we’re thinking as a board, then we’ll certainly take it on board and affect the policy statement accordingly.

“At the moment though, I think we’re quite happy.”

NHS Shetland public health principal Elizabeth Robinson had regularly stated to the board that the links between alcohol abuse, accessibility of drink and the impact on health should not be ignored.

The health board provided statistics showing that the highest concentration of licensed premises in Shetland is in Lerwick, and that one part of the Lerwick North area is in the highest ten per cent of areas in Scotland for the number of hospital admissions related to alcohol misuse.

The licensing forum – which features licence holders as well as bodies like the police and the NHS – and licensing standards officers also agreed there was an overprovision of off sales premises in Lerwick.

Reports said 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.

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