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The Comedy of Errors

Nottingham's Binge Drinking Problem

1 October 05 words: Jenny Hill
photos: David Bowen

The Government's new drinking laws are meant to help society. But is binge drinking a problem that can be fixed?

Between February and August this year every late night venue in the city had to renew their license. This was not solely restricted to the 350-plus bars and clubs that squeeze into the square mile that is Nottingham city centre. Everyone who sells anything after 11pm has been affected by Licensing Minister James Purnell’s new incentive to control Britain’s drink culture. Even fast food vand have had to reapply to unleash their rat-with-a-hint-of-pidgeon burgers on customers who have had one too many pints to use their taste of smell.

Although daylong binges in one place may appeal to the student-minded amongst us, will the rest of society follow suit? Real 24-hour drinking needs constant buses, trains and policing, not to mention bar staff willing to watch their peers get merry as they slave away at work while dawn breaks. The idea of this legislation is to stagger closing time, so that there are fewer problems when the city staggers home. It is true that when everyone pours out of the clubs at 2am the race to the taxi can get nasty but at least there is always someone there to see what is happening. For girls especially it can be daunting trying to find your way home on quieter streets.

With all the blue notices proclaiming pubs requested opening hours dotting the city windows, you would think most places wanted to stay open. However many will keep their new privilege to special occasions. It is possible that during the first winter bank holiday all havoc will break loose but as John Clarke, Chairman of the Nottingham Police Authority, proclaims: “After the initial fuss has died down, it will lead to a more civilised drinking culture in this country and will bring us more in line with our European neighbours”.

In most of Europe it is actually seen as an unusual disgrace to get drunk in public and this could be to do with their more lenient laws. In Germany for example people can drink beer and wine from the age of sixteen, although spirits are restricted to over eighteens. This seems to have the affect that getting drunk is seen as less of a big thing and therefore far less exciting. In England people are so enthusiastic when they can at last legally drink (or in this case drink for longer) that they take advantage and relish in the novelty. If bars were open all the time, then it is more than plausible that the streets would be calmer as people learn to pace themselves better.

So have all venues applied for 24-hour licenses as we were warned? Well, actually no, the reality is much more sober. Although of course some bars tried to cater for the true party animals of the city, most major changes to licenses were refused. Stag party-goers and seedy men in business suits out there will be disappointed to know that Bar Humbug did not get the strip license it requested. Instead a gradual change will be introduced, allowing us to not have to rush off quite so quickly at 11. The Malt Cross on St James’ Street (home of LeftLion Presents) is one such place that will change in response to what the customers want. Though it has applied to serve drinks until 2am, it will start by opening until midnight on Friday and Saturdays and take it from there. By contrast, local tap-merchants The Works look likely to have their licence revoked.

It seems after all the hype; the new drinking laws will have little actual effect on going-out culture in the city. As John Clarke explains, “people only have so much money to spend, and if they are intent on getting drunk, they will do so regardless of opening hours!” All night events, such as those held at Rock City on the occasional Saturday, have never caused many problems for local police before. Even though the 6am closing time may mean that drinkers who live far from the town centre have to wait around for the first bus, this is a personal choice that rarely effects anyone else. Nottingham may be crawling with stag and hen parties on the weekend but we are a long way from being Amsterdam for now.

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