Booze ban

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HASTINGS is set to be the first town in Sussex to introduce a ban on off-licences selling strong alcohol.

Hastings Borough Council is launching the initiative in a clamp down on street drinkers following a petition by angry residents.

The campaign, called Reduce the Strength, will be launched on Friday, October 18 in Central St Leonards, Castle and Old Hastings wards.

The proposal is to get all off licences in all three wards to sign up to a voluntary project not to sell or supply beer, cider or lager with an alcohol by volume of more than 6.5 per cent, as these products are the preference of street drinkers.

Bob Brown, the council’s licensing manager, said: “Such schemes are being trialled with very encouraging results in Dover and Ipswich. Council officers and police from Hastings have visited one of these schemes to learn from their experience, and planning for the Hastings initiative is now very well advanced.”

John Knowles, who lives in central St Leonards, set up an e-petition in protest at street drinking, which attracted more than 120 signatures.

At the council’s cabinet meeting on Monday (September 9) he said: “We are concerned about the continuous presence of street drinking in central St Leonards and the impact it is having on the town and local businesses.

“We are trying to improve the area but what we are confronted with on a daily basis is abusive and violent street drinkers. Last weekend I had a friend from Bath over here to visit and he saw one guy urinating up a wall.

“In St Leonards Gardens we performed Shakespeare in the open air but before we could start had to clear away half a dozen needles and 15 cans of cider, as well as numerous beer bottles. We need more of a zero tolerance approach. All too often street drinkers are spoken nicely to by police and move on. We know some shops are selling them alcohol and breaking rules. People come from Tunbridge Wells and Brighton to visit the galleries and are confronted by street drinkers.”

Business owners in Central St Leonards have raised concerns that street drinkers are hampering regeneration of the area, as reported in the Observer earlier this year.

Cllr Jay Kramer, the council’s lead member for community safety, said: “The council is aware of the problems of excessive drinking and particularly of street drinking which can deter visitors or new businesses coming to a town. We have had concerns about this for some time and, indeed, introduced a town-wide ban on street drinking several years ago. Taking further action to reduce the impact of excessive drinking is the logical next step.

“We hope that all off-licences in these areas will agree to work with us and stop selling strong alcohol. If they don’t, and they become the focus for anti-social behaviour or street drinking activity, we will gather evidence that will support a review of that premise’s licence. The 6.5 per cent condition could then be imposed on their licence or stronger action taken.

“We are absolutely determined to continue our robust stand on dealing with street drinking and alcohol-relate crime, and make Hastings an even better place to live, work and visit.”