Public health experts at NHS Lothian warned against granting extra space for beer, wine and spirits at the Asda superstores in Leith and at The Jewel – but city licensing leaders went against their advice.
The Edinburgh licensing board, led by former Lord Provost Eric Milligan, approved both bids after hearing submissions from Adsa’s lawyer yesterday.
Both stores had applied to stock large boxes full of alcohol on top shelves to avoid having to wheel out new stock from storage rooms.
Board members were initially told that adding new top shelves was for storage only but Asda later admitted it was unlikely to prevent shoppers from buying alcohol by the box-load should they wish to.
The board – comprised of police, council licensing officials and health specialists, with decisions made by city councillors – had been told that hospital admissions for the Leith Docks area were 122 per 10,000 residents, far higher than the city average of 89.
For neighbouring North Leith and Newhaven the figure was nearing double at 163.Despite this, the Leith store was granted a 16 per cent increase in shelf space for alcohol provision.
Jim Sherval, a drugs and alcohol expert at NHS Lothian, told the board: “The area in which the [Leith Docks] store is located has 122 hospital admissions per 10,000 residents, significantly higher than the Edinburgh median of 89.
“This area already has quite a large alcohol problem and we’re trying to control that.”
He added that there were already 4km of shelves displaying alcohol in the Leith area.
Cammy Day, whose Muirhouse constituency is among the worst for alcohol abuse and was one of three councillors on the board to oppose Asda, said: “I would suggest that displaying boxes might encourage shoppers to buy alcohol by the box-load. This is only providing more opportunity for consumption.”
Mr Sherval added: “This is certainly an issue. We are trying to reduce the amount of encouragement.”
Chas Booth, the Green councillor for Leith, said: “As a member for Leith I know alcohol does not just have an impact on health but also on disorder.”
NHS chiefs were given the same powers as police on licensing late last year, with public health specialists now sitting on the board.
The same objection to a license application by the planned Sainsbury’s at the Cowgate on health grounds earlier this year led to councillors turning down an application for the development.
Asda lawyer Richard Taylor said similar bids by other stores in Scotland for the same request had all been approved without incident.
Link to antisocial behaviour
ALCOHOL provision is closely linked to consumption and antisocial behaviour, NHS Lothian research has found, and new off-sales licences and greater shelf space has become tightly controlled in recent years.
The previous licensing board – dissolved before the May local government elections – introduced an “overprovision” clause into licensing policy which led to a near-blanket ban on new licences, and was heavily influenced by the new NHS objections. It also insisted chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s stump up funds for community work to reverse the social effects of alcohol abuse.
The licensed trade is likely to see the decision over Asda as a softening of the board’s approach.
Former Lord Provost Eric Milligan, the licensing leader, was famously caught on camera swigging from a bottle of Buckfast after a Hearts victory.