Last orders should be called on proposals for a public booze ban in Galashiels, according to sceptical members of the town’s community council.
Members of Scottish Borders Council voted by 19 to 13 at their latest full meeting to hold a second-stage consultation over introducing trial by-laws in Galashiels, Peebles, Hawick and Eyemouth prohibiting alcohol in public places.
If agreed, such a ban would lead to fines of up to £500 for drinking in public in designated areas.
The initial consultation showed that most people in the Borders either don’t think there is a problem with public drinking in the region or don’t know. Of the 392 respondents to express a view, 217 said there isn’t a problem and 175 said there is.
NHS Borders and Police Scotland remain in favour of the bylaws, however.
At Galashiels Community Council’s latest meeting, members expressed the view that a by-law is not needed there as there is no issue with drinking in public in the town centre.
Concerns were also raised that such a ban would prove difficult to enforce.
Committee chairperson Judith Cleghorn said: “This is turning into quite an issue.
“Personally, I don’t think there should be a ban, particularly in places such as Bank Street Gardens.
“We are trying to encourage people to come into the town. If they want to drink a bottle of wine or a glass of wine, I don’t think it matters.
“I also think it would push people who regularly want to drink out to places like the Policies and Langlee woods, where we don’t know what is happening.”
Bill White criticised the paper outlining the plan for being full of what he says are inaccuracies and contradictions.
He explained: “For somebody to go down to Melrose and Selkirk and have no problem drinking a can of beer and then to come to Gala and receive a £500 fine is just nonsense.
“The report says the time when there is a major problem is common riding season and yet that is the very time when it would be all right to drink in public without receiving a fine. Where is the logic in that?
“The last time I saw someone drinking a can of beer in the town centre was three or four years ago, and that was someone with a problem with alcohol, and those are the people we should be supporting.”
Regional councillor Harry Scott, a former police chief, said there had not been a nuisance issue with people drinking alcohol in Galashiels town centre for 35 years.
He said: “In the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a problem with people drinking in Bank Street Gardens and Market Place, mainly because there were two off-licences, one in Bank Street and one at the bottom of Overhaugh Street, where cheap alcohol was available.
“A by-law was introduced to stop drinking in those two places, and it was enforced successfully by the local police.
“I personally have seen no drinking-on-the-street problems, and none has ever been brought to my attention”.
Drew Tulley noted that when supermarkets arrived in town, the off-licences causing issues closed and the problem went away.
Regional councillor Euan Jardine said there is no statistical evidence available supporting bringing in a ban, nor any information on how much it would cost to introduce the by-laws proposed.
He said: “What concerns me is the fact that the stats and evidence shows that alcohol consumption is declining.
“I also do not buy into the fact that we are the only Scottish council to not have this in place and therefore we should implement it.
“The Scottish Borders has an alcohol outlet availability lower than Scotland as a whole.
“It also has 411.9 alcohol-related hospital stays per 100,000, compared to the 676 per 100,000 Scottish average.
“Historical data shows we are consistently better than the Scottish average.”
Mr Scott added: “I’m of the view that it would be too difficult to enforce.
“There would have to be all sorts of exemptions. You will never stop drinking in the street at common riding times or at Christmas and new year.
“Where will the ban apply? What are the boundaries? Do you really want to stop a family picnic in the park where they want to enjoy the odd bottle of wine? Why ban it in one part of the town and not the other?
“If circumstances change, and we do begin to see persistent drunken behaviour in our streets and public places, I would be prepared to reconsider.”
NHS Borders, the Borders Alcohol and Drug Partnership and Scottish Borders Children and Young People’s Leadership Group provided a joint response during the initial consultation.
It stated: “Alcohol consumption can take place in our communities’ private space as well as within licensed premises.
“Not allowing people to drink in a public place will help to reduce the normalisation of alcohol being an ordinary commodity and build communities and environments that support a culture change and reduce exposure for our children and young people.
“Public drinking can adversely affect the quality of life for residents and our communities.
“Alcohol by-laws can be used as an additional tool to reduce the nuisance and disorder normally associated with public drinking.”