Applications by two fast food outlets for longer opening hours took a blow today when the licensing committee deferred their consideration – but decided to recommend a general policy of restricting food hours till 3am.
Lerwick centre businesses Tatties and Point and the Harbour Fish and Chip Shop had wanted to keep open till 4am at the weekend, which would give them an hour to trade after nightclubs shut.
But the SIC licensing committee decided not to consider the applications until the full council has reviewed the licensing policy. Instead, the committee accepted police arguments that resources would be stretched and policing of the wider community compromised by allowing food outlets to trade for an extra hour and will recommend keeping late food licences till 3am.
Shetland police chief inspector Eddie Graham said that the town centre had seen a peak of 22 serious assaults in 2012. But the police had doubled their pub visits and had changed tack to nip trouble in the bud instead of “mopping up the aftermath of disorder”.
As a result common assaults had fallen and disorderly behaviour incidents were down from 689 to 299.
The strategy had been successful but meant having police on the ground. Early intervention had cut the number of crimes, victims and pressure on other services, but keeping police on the street for an extra hour would stretch the force, which is already 10 understrength from its nominal compliment of 37.6 officers.
Councillor Allison “Flea” Duncan said the police force in Shetland was “already stretched to its utmost point” by staff shortages. Having to police longer opening hours in Lerwick could cause “very serious problems” in rural areas, especially if there was a “major incident”.
Mr Graham said that restricting food licences to the same hours as nightclubs would mean Shetland remained “in step” with Police Scotland and its Northern Division. Shetland had also traditionally been relatively liberal in allowing food premises to remain open later than was the case in Inverness, for instance.
He said that there was a potentially “toxic mix” of intoxicated adults and teenagers on the street at closing time and that many people under the age of 16 had been assaulted. The influx of 2,500 oil workers in Shetland meant that the pubs and nightclubs were busier than ever.
He added that maintaining the police on the street to oversee the late night crowds amounted to “operating like a private security firm” when resources should be pitched at the wider community.
Mr Graham said there was an upsurge in crimes like domestic violence, disorder and noise complaints in the “golden hour” after nightclubs shut, as people returned home from their nights out.
Licensing committee vice-chairman Cecil Smith proposed that fast food licences should keep their 3am limit. That was seconded by Peter Campbell who said that extending the food licence by an hour would “risk sections of the community”.