When new licensing legislation allowing extended opening hours for pubs, bars and clubs came into force in November 2005, there was widespread concern that a rise in crime and anti-social behaviour would quickly follow.
But 12 months on, and with a summer season successfully negotiated, these concerns have eased. The majority of Police forces across the country, including Kingston, have confirmed that the feared increases in alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour have not materialised.
Kingston Police Town Centre Inspector, Julian Hagley, confirms: “The impact of the new licensing laws has not resulted in the increase in alcohol-fuelled crimes that many people thought would happen. In Kingston town centre we have in fact seen a month-on-month decrease in figures for Violence Against the Person. This reduction has been achieved in part by the working partnership that exists between Kingston Police, Kingston Council, Kingston First, Licensees and the night club management."
Paul Riordan, Business Crime Reduction Manager at Kingston First, agrees that partnership working has played a key role in counteracting any negative impact the new licensing laws might have had: “Kingston residents were understandably concerned when the new licensing laws were introduced last year. But the new legislation acted as a catalyst for local organisations to work together and tackle head-on the challenges that our thriving and bustling night time economy presents. In terms of a coordinated approach, Kingston is now miles ahead of most town centres.”
By working together, Kingston Council, Kingston Police, Kingston First and other organisations such as Transport for London have introduced a whole raft of new measures to help make Kingston a more pleasant place to be after dark.
“These initiatives had an immediate and dramatic impact,” says Graham McNally, Town Centre Manager. “Between November 2005 and March 2006 there was a 34 per cent reduction in crime in the town centre.”
Graham McNally highlights some particular successes: “The marshalled minicab booking kiosks outside nightclubs, the new dedicated night-time town centre manager, six additional night bus routes and improved radio links between the clubs, pubs, CCTV operators and the Police – they have all made a tremendous difference.”
The abolition of ‘General licensing hours’ was just one of several key changes brought in by the new laws. The change that has impacted most on Kingston Council is the fact that from November 2005 licences for entertainment, theatre, alcohol, food and sports have been issued by the Local Authority.
This has resulted in a great deal of extra work, with the Council’s licensing department dealing with 487 premises and 1,018 personal licence applications. Most pubs and takeaways in the borough applied to extend their licences but there were no applications for 24-hour openings. 131 applications attracted representations which could not be resolved and were decided by the licensing Sub Committee. One personal and two premises licence applications were rejected, and a number of licences had special conditions attached to them by the Sub Committee.
Councillor Simon James, Executive Member for Licensing at Kingston Council, says: “The new licensing procedures have gone as well as could have been expected. The general principal behind the new legislation – staggering the closing times of pubs and clubs – is probably right and is likely to lead to a long-term reduction in anti-social behaviour. But I continue to have concerns about the cost for local authorities in administering the legislation, the prescriptive guidelines for consultation with residents and the fact that the legislation prevents elected Members from making representations on residents’ behalf.”
The partnership between Kingston Council, Kingston Police, Kingston First and Transport for London continues to deliver exciting new schemes. The latest, launched on 29 November, are late night marshalled taxi ranks which will run over the Christmas period.
Councillor Simon James concludes: “The marshalled taxi ranks, together with the new minicab booking kiosks, will help people make their way home safely and quickly after enjoying a night out in Kingston. This is a perfect example of the partnership approach delivering some real benefits. We have had some good results but we are not complacent and we will continue to work closely with all of our partners to help people enjoy a safe night out in Kingston. I hope the approach we are taking will form a model for other town centres that play host to a busy and vibrant night life.”