Published: 11:45, 04 January 2019
| Updated: 11:47, 04 January 2019
Clubs and bars in towns and cities with 'saturation' zones could be forced to pay a levy for extra policing and street cleaning under proposals being considered by the Home Office.
It follows the publication of new government statistics which show there are now 222 locations nationwide, including Canterbury, where "cumulative impact area" licensing policies apply.
They were put in place by local authorities to limit the proliferation of new venues and later opening hours because of concerns about increased anti-social behaviour.
The Licensing Act 2003 was meant to create a cafe culture in the evenings, but officials now fear the growing number of bars and extended later drinking is leading to spiralling problems of drunken disorder and litter on the streets in the early hours.
Councils already have powers to impose levies on late night venues but the vast majority have so far chosen not to. Canterbury City Council is one of them.
Now, the Home Office is planning to consult on proposals in the spring which could make such a charge mandatory.
Spokesman Matthew Hunter said: "People should be able to enjoy a night out safely and responsibly without the fear of being a victim of crime.
"We are working with the industry, police, local authorities and other partners to ensure we have safe streets and local businesses that thrive.
“We are committed to reforming late night levies so that more areas make effective use of them to deal with problem individuals and premises. As part of this process we aim to launch a consultation in the spring on the levy charge.”
The prospect of an extra charge on the sector is not welcomed by the owner of Canterbury's biggest nightclub, Louise Jones, who runs Club Chemistry and the Tokyo Tea Rooms.
She says it would penalise everyone in the night-time economy, including those who make extra effort to run responsible establishments.
"It would be inherently unfair unless it could be proved there is demonstrative gain, which we can see with the Canterbury BID levy," she said.
"I think there is also question of how effective the cumulative impact zones are and my understanding is that the council is re-considering it. Fundamentally, they don't really serve much of a purpose any more.
"If you have a problem venue which is putting an additional burden on services, I can see the argument but I struggle with a blanket charge."
Mrs Jones said it was clear that licensees should not be serving alcohol to those who had clearly already had too much, but she also believes that individuals must take personal responsibility for their behaviour.
The latest statistics are part of the ongoing government scrutiny of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 and are revealed in the Home Office's Alcohol and Late Night Refreshment Licensing report, released in October.
Yet in Canterbury, figures obtained by the Gazette in November reveal a dramatic fall in the reported number of police call-outs to bars and clubs - down by two thirds since 2012. The city has also earned a Purple Flag for its vibrant but safe nightlife.
"People should be able to enjoy a night out safely and responsibly without the fear of being a victim of crime..." Home Office spokesman Matthew Hunter
The fall is attributed to stricter admissions procedures to premises and controls by door staff and a more joined-up approach by agencies including the police and city council licensing officers.
But St Mildred's Area Community Society chairman Dr Reg Race is sceptical of claims which show a decline in late-night incidents.
"I think it is simply down to fewer being reported because everyone knows how overstretched the police are," he said.
"The fundamental public policy stance that needs to be taken is to reduce the scope of alcohol consumption and especially binge drinking.
"It is creating havoc with the health of young people, 'training' them to be heavy drinkers and shifting the cost consequences on to public authorities including the ambulance service and A&E departments.
"Even the extension of this levy will not touch the sides. Serious academic studies, for example about 18 cities in Norway, show that even marginal extensions to licensing hours can have steep effects in increasing public disorder and drunkenness.
"What has to happen is a root and branch reform of the 2003 Licensing Act, much tougher restrictions on the availability of alcohol, and higher prices."