Results of alcohol by-laws consultation to go before councillors

( Picture Michael Gillen)
( Picture Michael Gillen)

A consultation on alcohol by-laws has shown that most people in the Borders feel there isn’t a problem with public drinking. 

Of the 392 respondents who expressed a view, 217 said there isn’t a problem with public drinking in the Borders, while 175 said they think there is. 

However, a further 99 said they don’t know, meaning that neither response represents a majority of public opinion. 

The debate over whether to introduce an alcohol ban in public spaces is set to return to Scottish Borders Council on Thursday, when the results of the consultation are due to be presented to councillors. 

In November 2018, council officers suggested bringing in alcohol by-laws which could see people fined up to £500 for drinking in public in designated areas. 

Public bodies such as NHS Borders and Police Scotland are in favour of the by-laws, but at a meeting of Scottish Borders Council in December, councillors opted to consult on the public before bringing in a ban on public drinking. 

The consultation was designed to answer two questions: is the consumption of alcohol in public space a problem, and would the prevention of drinking in public help meet the council’s licensing objectives?

Of the 175 people and organisations who said they believe there is a problem with drinking in public, 160 provided further comments. 

One respondent in favour of alcohol byelaws wrote: “Alcohol is a problem in these areas during festival times. There are many people walking around freely drinking during these times. 

“This makes it difficult to identify those young people who are underage drinking when there are such crowds.”

Another wrote: “Intoxication in these areas is unpleasant to witness. In all cases we are entitled not to be subject to the loudness and antisocial behaviour this leads to.”

On the other hand, some respondents voiced their concerns about bringing in alcohol by-laws, saying it’s a complex situation.

“I feel personally that there are alternatives for many people socially that do not centre around drinking or going to the pub, such as the cinema, concerts, sports, dining out, etc., but not everyone has the imagination or willingness to explore these as valid ways to enjoy yourself.”

Another objector wrote: “Drinking in public places doesn’t cause a problem in itself. Issues arise when certain individuals drink alcohol to excess in any setting. 

Police Scotland in its response said that currently the Scottish Borders is the only local authority area in Scotland that does not have by-laws restricting the consumption of alcohol in public places.

“By having such by-laws in force it assists Police Scotland in reducing anti-social behaviour and violence both of which are known to have an association with drinking in public. 

NHS Borders, Borders Alcohol and Drug Partnership and Scottish Borders Children and Young People’s Leadership Group provided a joint response, saying not allowing people to drink in a public place will help to reduce the normalisation of alcohol being an ordinary commodity and builds communities and environments that supports a culture change and reduces exposure for our children and young people. 

“Public drinking can adversely affect the quality of life for residents and our communities. 

“Alcohol Focus Scotland report that one in two Scots experience harm from another’s drinking and often this harm is experienced in public spaces (although not necessarily from public space drinking).”

They added licensed premises are well regulated within the Scottish Borders and provide the opportunity to consume alcohol in a safe environment. 

Councillors will now be asked whether to conduct further consultation on two options: a blanket ban on public drinking to cover the whole of the Borders, or the introduction of an alcohol ban in certain areas of the Borders. Police Scotland has indicated it would prefer the first option, to ease the enforcement of the ban.

Furthermore, councillors are asked to consider undertaking a pilot scheme in specific towns, which could then be used to gather further feedback from the public.