Poll: Police bid to ban early hours alcohol sales in Norwich - as new figures claim drink-fuelled crime costs you �21m

Police will today step up their efforts to stop alcohol being served in Norwich in the early hours, as new figures claim it costs taxpayers an estimated �21m to deal with the consequences of the city's drink-fuelled crime.

Bars and clubs in the city's Prince of Wales Road have already voluntarily agreed to stop serving alcohol after 4am, following police concerns that people drinking into the early hours of the morning has led to an increase in crime.

But Norfolk police are now hoping to go a step further by persuading Norwich City Council to use new powers to bring in what is known as an early morning restriction order.

That order would control when alcohol can be sold across the whole of Norwich, with police putting forward two alternative proposals.

One would see the sale of alcohol in Norwich banned between 3am and 6am every day, with the exception of the area designated by the council as the late night activity zone, chiefly Prince of Wales Road and Tombland.

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In that area the sale of alcohol would be banned between 3am and 6am Monday to Friday and between 4am and 6am at weekends.

The second proposal would stop alcohol sales between 2.30am and 6am, apart from in the late night activity zone, where the sale would be banned between 3am and 6am Monday to Friday and from 3.30am to 6am at weekends.

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To make the case for the introduction of an order. Norfolk police have used a Home Office 'cost of crime calculator' to show the cost to the taxpayer of crimes linked to the Norwich night time economy.

Those figures, the police say, show that, between August 2009 and January this year, there were 1,180 such crimes, which had a total estimated cost to society of �21.8m.

That figure includes the cost to the police, the cost of taking people through the courts, as well as the impact on, for example, health services, insurance, fixing damage and victim support services.

Superintendent Paul Sanford, Norwich policing commander, said: 'It is estimated that 48,000 officer hours per year are spent patrolling the Norwich night time economy.

'The later hours of opening and increasing midweek trade cause this figure to be 12,000 officer hours per year higher than the period before late night licences.

'It is the police's view that this huge investment prevents a significant amount of crime and that a reduced level of resourcing would result in a considerable crime rise.

'The police view is that their approach to the night time economy masks many of the challenges and problems that the night time economy presents.'

He added he had no doubt that bars and clubs opening for longer had led to higher crime, especially beyond 3am, with a small number of people causing a disproportionate amount of crime. He said: 'This crime increase is not a displacement from earlier in the evening, but an addition to the crime that has always occurred before 3am.'

He said the crime was not restricted to areas immediately outside bars, clubs and takeaways, but 'a significant amount' occurred elsewhere in Norwich as people made their way home.

Supt Sanford said a lot of work had taken place to cut crime, such as working with the trade to create the Best Bar None Scheme, test purchases to detect underage sales of alcohol, 'impact nights' with a zero tolerance approach to crime and bad behaviour and more use of CCTV.

The voluntary agreement with bars and clubs to stop serving at an earlier time had also helped, with no violent crimes at all during August, when the changes first came in.

But he said crime and disorder beyond 3am remained at 'an unacceptable level' and the early morning restriction order needed to be considered to tackle the problem.

He said: 'We believe that 3am closure is proportionate to the scale of the problems encountered in the night time economy and that the success of voluntary closure provides an evidence base to show the impact that earlier closure can bring.'

Supt Sanford said he was aware that the proposals could have an economic impact. but that discussions with clubs showed most which did open beyond 3.30am making no profit beyond 4am.

And, to sweeten the pill, he said Norfolk police were not planning to make an application to use another new power which would enable a late night levy to be imposed on bars, pubs and clubs.

That late night levy would have meant the city council, as the licensing committee, could get a contribution from alcohol suppliers towards policing the night-time economy, but Supt Sanford said the police would not seek such a charge at the moment.

But he added: 'We would, however, note at this stage that the police would consider recommending a levy at a later date should alcohol related crime and disorder increase in the city at any later time.'

Paul Marks, manager at Mercy XL, part of Peri's Leisure together with Rocco's and Pulse, said the club was already signed up to the voluntary agreement so making it more official would not really affect them too much.

He said: 'As far as we're concerned it won't make a lot of difference. If everyone pulls in line and does the same thing it's fine. 'But if they are wanting to make it official, then it suggests to me, maybe, somewhere is not doing what they should be. 'Personally I think they should go back to the days before they messed with the licensing laws, so pubs closed at 11pm and clubs at 2am. Everyone knew where they stood then.'

Some bars and pubs outside the night time economy area which wanted to open for longer and which do not have a history of crime and disorder could be able to apply for an exemption.

The city council's licensing committee will decide at a meeting this afternoon whether to move forward with the proposals, which will have to go before full council and then out for consultation, before they can be introduced.

If approved, the earliest the order would be enforceable is likely to be March next year.

• What do you think? Write to Norwich Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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