Street drinking problem in St John Street revealed as shop bids for 8am licence

City Food & Wine, St John St N1

City Food & Wine, St John St N1 - Credit: Archant

Alcoholism is a real problem in Islington. Work is going on to tackle street drinking in the St John Street area, where a shop’s application for an 8am licence was rejected.

An 'alcohol control zone' sign in Spa Green (Picture: Polly Hancock)

An 'alcohol control zone' sign in Spa Green (Picture: Polly Hancock) - Credit: Archant

St John Street is one of the worst areas in Islington for street drinking, particularly in the morning.

Neighbours regularly complain about people fighting, littering and relieving themselves in public and say the number of licensed premises in the area is a real problem.

Police, too, say they are experiencing an increasing amount of calls from the area about “aggressive beggars” and anti-social behaviour fuelled by street drinking.

In July, someone from Clerkenwell told officers at a Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) meeting they had been attacked by a street drinker in the road and an arrest had been made.

Bektas Goreli at City Food & Wine, St John St N1

Bektas Goreli at City Food & Wine, St John St N1 - Credit: Archant

So it was no surprise when a bid by off-licence City Food and Wine to start selling alcohol as early as 8am was thrown out by councillors last week.

Licensee Firat Bagcih made the application just one week after being given a late-night extension on his licence, from 8pm to 11pm.

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His bid for the early start angered licensing officers and police, who say they have worked with him on projects such as “reduce the strength” and he is well aware of how bad the problem is.

Between 2012 and 2014, Islington had the highest rate of alcohol-specific mortality in London, and the third highest rate of claimants for incapacity benefit because of alcoholism.

Clerkenwell itself has been made a Cumulative Impact policy area, giving the council more control over new licensed premises due to the high number of similar businesses (within 100m of City Food and Wine there are six off-licences open 24 hours, and within 250m there are 23).

Town hall officers said in their report ahead of the meeting on Thursday that Mr Bagcih was showing “a distinct disregard” for the policy, but he told the Gazette it was simply a case of trying keeping up with these other businesses.

“I need to compete,” he said. “There’s a shop opposite that can sell it at 8am, so why can’t we?

“We’re not allowed to serve alcohol more than five per cent if it’s under 35cl. We need the earlier hours to survive.

“We get people asking for alcohol at 8, 9, 10am. I don’t know if they are street drinkers, we get a couple, but some are leaving places.”

The Gazette visited the shop and spoke to manager Bektas Goreli. He said he didn’t work in the mornings, but if he did he wouldn’t serve someone who was drunk.

When asked about possible problems with people buying alcohol at 8am, he said: “Some people have traditions. Some have a coffee and some have one beer.”

Sgt Stacey McGhee, a Clerkenwell SNT officer, said her team’s ongoing work in the area to tackle street drinking was a priority and the application undermined it.

She wrote in July: “Police have been receiving increasing calls to St John Street and the surrounding area to aggressive beggars and general anti-social behaviour, all of which are strongly linked to street drinking.

“We have been there regularly over the past month moving these persons on and dealing with any criminal offences. The majority of persons stopped and spoken to were in possession of alcohol or under the influence of it.

“Furthermore, we receive complaints of ASB as a result of the fallout from Fabric on the weekends. Groups of youths hang around in the area well into the later part of the morning – urinating and just generally causing a nuisance.”

The good work has been paying off, too. Dave Bamford of Islington’s parks department said: “Spa Fields Park has seen a great improvement drinking wise since the efforts of the licensing team, police and park guard. The work with the local off-licences has been key.”