Trade slams board for ‘bias’

Licence rulings draw fire in West Dunbartonshire

By Dave Hunter

WEST Dunbartonshire licensing board has been accused of bias towards big businesses after rulings that allowed pub group JD Wetherspoon and supermarket giant Tesco to open new premises in the area.

In 2010 the board announced one of Scotland’s strictest overprovision policies, saying the area was overprovided with certain types of licensed premises, including pubs and supermarkets.
However, at a meeting of the board this month Tesco was granted a variation to an existing premises licence for a store it has purchased in Clydebank, while Wetherspoon was granted a premises licence for a new pub in Dumbarton.
Scottish Licensed Trade Association chief executive Paul Waterson said the rulings have undermined the board’s position on overprovision.
“West Dunbartonshire, to their credit, went into [overprovision] in great detail and tried to come up with a very technical decision based on facts from health boards and so on,” said Waterson.
“It was a very credible way of doing overprovision and really it’s been found to be wanting in this case.
“I think with any overprovision, if a company’s big enough and wealthy enough to take a board on, it looks like they’re going to win.”
And a West Dunbartonshire licensee, who asked not to be named, said the decisions contradict the council’s efforts to tackle problem drinking.
“They [the council] are telling people they need to improve their relationship with alcohol, while at the same time they’re allowing access to cheap drink, both on and off-trade,” he said.
“What message is that to the people of West Dunbartonshire?
“In Scotland the feeling among the independents is that there’s a two-tier licensing system where the big boys can roll in a lawyer at twenty grand but the wee guys can’t afford that. And councils are too scared to tackle them.”
The Tesco ruling will extend the floorspace on which alcohol can be displayed and the hours during which alcohol can be sold at a former Pricecutter store that has been purchased by the retailer and will trade as a Tesco Express.
A spokesman for the board said: “On this occasion the application was a variation on an existing licence and was approved after considering the application and its benefits including a comparison with the existing premises licence.”
The spokesman added that the Wetherspoon licence was approved because of the “significant benefits this business would bring to the area in terms of job creation”.
West Dunbartonshire’s licensing policy statement is currently under review, ahead of the publication of a new policy later in the year.
One of the suggested changes to the policy is for the board to have the discretion to grant new applications “that bring significant employment to the area”.