Go on, be the very first ADZ guinea pig

30 May, 2008

The turbulent ride given by MPs of all persuasions to the progress of the legislation to introduce Alcohol Disorder Zones has not deflected the

government from implementing them. Ministers have conceded that the scheme may need some "tinkering", but the basic premise remains - the licensed trade ought to pay for alcohol-fuelled trouble on the streets.

The indiscriminate nature of this concept has already been discussed, but it is a fundamental flaw. If, as is likely, city-centre problems late at night are

a result of people leaving pubs and clubs, why should the off-trade - and in particular specialist wine merchants - have to foot the bill?

Similarly, of course, if the disorder is caused mainly by groups of teenagers in streets or open spaces drinking high-strength alcohol obtained from supermarkets or, quite possibly, from adult friends or family, why should the on-trade be held responsible?

In both cases,

according to the anti-ADZ argument , why are the current restrictions, prohibitions and police powers not sufficient for law enforcement agencies to take action within their own existing strategies? What "additional" services are the licensed trade being asked to pay for?

A great many questions and not very many cogent answers, it seems. Certainly, this is a measure which has not even been warmly welcomed by the very people who are to be called upon to implement it - local authorities. They, and their representative organisations, have been distinctly lukewarm or even negative

- quite rightly seeing

an administrative nightmare,

precious little return for effort

and

the distinct possibility of

their book s

being down at the end of the experiment.

Delays already in the wind

Although the draft regulations have now been approved, there is likely to be a considerable delay before the first hints of an actual ADZ emerge. This is because the Home Office does not intend to lay

a

commencement

order until some time in June, after which any council rash enough to embark upon the procedure will need a lead time of at least eight weeks for the process to take effect. So there is no likelihood of an ADZ

being in place until August or September.

Doubtless, there will be a few councils who will adopt a "wait and see" approach by letting

others be first in line, so that they can learn from

any mistakes.

Do not be fooled by the regulatory bodies' impact estimate of up to 30

zones in the first year. There is no basis for this and the figure should be discounted.

The biggest headache for the administrators will be in assessing and adopting a "fair pay" system. This element was highly criticised, particularly by the Lords' committee, who could not see how an equitable scheme could be devised for the charging mechanism. With supermarkets now firmly in the frame,

it might be thought that they would carry the heaviest financial burden. But then the nightclubs and late-night pubs may figure largely in the police's estimate of where

more resources will be required.

What time does the fun start?

One of the elements which has yet to be fully explored is the time of day. The ADZ will have a "charging period", which is the time when the additional services will be implemented. If certain premises do not open during this period, according to the regulations, their charge will be zero.

It may also be that the ADZ does not operate on every day of the week, only on Fridays and Saturdays. The charges will therefore be based only on the additional police services required on those days.

There is also to be a "patronage test" which, according to the latest draft guidance, will require local authority officers to ascertain during the charging period whether the proportion of alcohol sales is higher than other goods. This is not, in fact, what the Act says, but clearly there has been some horse-trading on the issue, and it may be that some supermarkets and

convenience stores will seek to show that their non-alcohol sales are higher , making them

exempt. This will not, of course, prevent customers from coming in and buying solely alcohol during the late-night period, but the assessment will be made over a longer period, perhaps three months of records, prior to the implementation of the ADZ.

While the

guidance stresses that ability to pay should be taken into account, and that the local authority should assess the nature of the business, it is also firm that the level of "services" provided to individual licensed premises should not dictate the charge. So an innocent specialist off-licence with an unblemished track record gains no special favours, although one would expect the charge for such premises to be set at a relatively modest level.

All this is

pure speculation at this stage. I have yet to find a local council actively considering implementing an ADZ, and certainly there are several whose city centre managers are violently opposed to such a negative self-inflicted wound. Property owners are also worried about the effect on prices. The whole scheme may end up as just another legislative pipe dream. At least, that is the hope.




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