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Council / Application to allow 16 and 17 year olds to stay later in Unst pub refused

The Balta Light pub in Unst when it first opened a few years ago. Photo courtesy of Balta Light.

A PROPOSAL to change an Unst pub’s operating plan to allow 16 and 17 year olds to stay the whole night through to 1am – which drew significant concern from the police – has been turned down.

The team behind Balta Light applied for the change because it said there are a couple of 17-year-olds who act as designated drivers for their older friends but have to leave at 9pm before returning later to collect them.

The application went in front of the Shetland licensing board on Monday, but refusal won the day after a vote.

The submission stated that under the new set-up all young people would still need to be accompanied by a responsible adult, while the cut-off point for children would remain at 9pm.

The application said: “The reason for the change is that we have a couple of 17-year-olds who, at the moment leave at 9.00pm and come back to fetch their friends who are already 18 at a pre-arranged time, the change would allow the 17-year-olds to stay on the premises from 9.00pm to 1.00am if they chose to do so, the 17-year-olds are usually the allocated driver for that evening.”

But the police, who are consulted on licence applications, objected to the plans.

Chief superintendent Conrad Trickett, who at the time of writing was divisional commander for the Highlands and Islands, said it could risk young people being exposed to late night drinking.

He also said allowing 16 and 17 year olds to remain within the pub “would increase the risk of underage drinking taking place”.

Trickett added: “The presence of 16 and 17 year olds after 21:00 hours on licensed premises places them in a position which risks not only physical harm but also to psychological and moral harm.

“It should also be acknowledged that young persons need protection from environments which are wholly unsuitable and they need to be prevented from being placed in a position where it is easy for them to circumvent the law and obtain alcohol.

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“The interests of communities would not be served by allowing any relaxation of controls which would undermine efforts to combat underage drinking.”

At Monday’s meeting a motion by Stephen Leask to refuse the application on the grounds of it going against licensing objectives was met with an amendment by Liz Peterson to approve.

Leask said: “I think the board would need to be cognisant of the significant objection [from the police].”

He said he felt the board could be on a “shoogly peg” if it went against the views of police.

Leask was seconded by Moraig Lyall, who said “alcohol has a significant impact on our isles as a whole” – adding that the argument around protecting children holds a lot of sway.

Earlier in the meeting the Shetland Central councillor expressed worry about possible approval setting a precedent, but she was told that was not a factor which can influence decision-making.

Moving to approve the application, Peterson said she felt Balta Light was a well run establishment and suggested it was a suitable amendment.

She was seconded by Catherine Hughson, who said the fact that young people have designated drivers showed responsibility.

It came down to a vote, which was tied three-three – but board chairman Neil Pearson had the deciding vote, and the application was refused.

Pearson said it was “honourable” what Balta Light is doing, “but we need to be mindful of the police”.

SIC lawyer Paul Wishart, who presented the item, said though it needed to be made clear that the refusal was the decision of the board – not just because of the police objection.

The meeting had heard that 16-year-olds were included in the proposed variation because when it comes to licensing there was a split between under 16s and 16 and 17-year-olds.

Meanwhile an application by Ness Boating Club to extend licensing hours for the South Mainland Up Helly Aa was approved at the meeting.

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