Booze blitz wages war on ‘lax’ laws behind Islington’s cafe culture

THE “lax” licensing laws behind Islington’s famous “caf� culture” are destroying families and piling pressure on the borough’s hospitals and police force, says the leader of the council.

Councillor Catherine West has vowed to “turn the tide” against an explosion of 24-hour off licences, trendy bars and vomit-splattered streets ahead of a borough-wide crackdown on binge drinking and alcohol-related anti-social behaviour.

Islington has almost 60 off licences open around the clock - the second highest concentration anywhere in London - while almost a quarter of adults in the borough binge drink, according to the latest medical research.

Councillor West said: “This is a fresh start. We want an end to the days where Islington is a soft touch for 24-hour drinking. Things have been too lax.”

The Labour-run council wants to introduce a ban on new off licences opening, restrict the hours shops can sell alcohol and introduce tougher fines for selling alcohol to underage children.

Five specially-controlled zones around street drinking hotspots such as the Emirates Stadium and Elthorne Park, in Archway, would also be extended to cover the entire borough – giving police powers to confiscate alcohol from nuisance drinkers anywhere in Islington.

Councillor West said: “Archway, for instance, had a high number of off licences given out under the last council. We had a classic example in Cressida Road where a shop sought a licence to sell alcohol because the shop up the road had been given one and they needed to compete. It’s giving out the wrong message.

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“We can’t take them away now they are established but we can be tougher when people come to us with new licenses. We want more diversity to come into our high streets.”

She added: “We’ve got a big problem in Grenville Road in my ward of Tollington where people are hanging around drinking and making the area unattractive. On a match day around the Emirates it could be people coming in from outside the borough.

“You can tell them to stop drinking but they can step across the boundary. When the police say ‘put that down’ they can just step across the line and the police officer can’t take the drink. Sometimes it just moves the problem on to another area.”

Plans to declare Clerkenwell “saturated” and refuse all applications for new bars and clubs are also set to be introduced. The area currently has 148 licensed premises – 10 per cent of the total amount in Islington.

The policy is to be “regularly reviewed”, and Councillor West refused to rule out a ban on new bars and clubs opening in other hedonistic party destinations such as Upper Street, in St Mary’s ward.

Councillor West said: “The research is showing that despite turning into a caf� culture where we sit and discuss philosophy over one glass of white wine, alcohol is too damaging for too many people with knock-on costs for families with domestic violence and poor health, for hospitals and for police.

“We have got to get the balance right,” she added. “Islington has always been somewhere people have come for entertainment right back to the 1700s, but right now we feel there’s too much excessive drinking. A lax policy says ‘anything goes’. If we feel St Mary’s needs to be toughened up we will do it.”

The proposals are currently out for public consultation until November 15.