Friday, January 17, 2014

Finally! An end to more off licences and takeaways in Kensington and Fairfield

On Wednesday night I was proud to address the Town Hall Chamber on a proposal before us to stop any more off licences and fast food takeaways opening in our ward.

This is an abridged version of the speech I gave.

We have been talking a lot about poverty tonight

One clear sign of poverty in a neighbourhood is to look at the types of shops and businesses that predominate on its High Street. 

In my ward, Kensington and Fairfield, we have far too many of four particular types of businesses; there are off-licences where people buy cheap strong alcohol to drink themselves into oblivion so they don’t have to face terrible lives. We have dozens of hot food take-aways selling quick gratification for the miserable; we have betting shops for people whose lives are so bereft of positive experiences that their only enjoyment comes from praying for a big win on the horses or the slot machines. And of course we have lots of payday lenders and pawnshops for those who can’t pay the leccie this week.

It would be very easy as Councillors to become depressed at the futility of it all and at our inability to change anything but that’s not Labour’s way is it. We burn with the need to make a difference.

So we have been busy establishing foodbanks, supporting the credit union movement, paying for debt advice for our residents and trying to devise ways to limit people’s exposure to gambling.

There is another big project that has taken years to come to fruition but is finally going to happen tonight with your support. Ever since I was elected I have been fighting the excessive number of off licences in our ward. 

7 years ago to this very day, January 15th 2007, I stood in front of the licensing committee begging them not to pass an application to extend the hours of an off licence on Prescot Road called, believe it or not, “not drunk enough”.  They had been caught selling alcohol to underage kids, there were stories of people lying in the gutter outside and they had been accused in the local press of giving taxi drivers money to encourage them to bring drunks to their shop to buy more alcohol. The licensing committee were sympathetic but said their hands were tied and despite my very best efforts, passed the application to allow it to open until 4am. 

That was the day I realised that the law as it stood was not on our side and we had a big fight on our hands.

Over subsequent years we have heard some stories of young women and girls being found drunk and unconscious in our parks, vulnerable to sexual attacks or robberies, having persuaded adults to buy cheap vodka for them locally; We have regular reports of anti-social behaviour where people’s neighbours are screaming and shouting up the street in the early hours of the morning full of drink they have been able to buy on the corner, even so late at night.

And as you will see in the report before you tonight, we have had many responses to our consultation describing the behaviour of a small group of hardcore alcoholics who drink out on the street all day from 9 o’clock in the morning, intimidating passers-by, begging for money and staggering into the traffic, they urinate and defecate on the street and lie collapsed by entry gates for our local children and families to see.

They are being facilitated by the proliferation of shops open around the clock selling the cheapest strongest stuff.  

Ever since Allerton Road and Lark Lane were given local powers to oppose the opening of more bars and restaurants it has been the aim of me and my ward colleagues to find a way to utilise the same powers to stop any more off licences from opening in our area and to challenge the work practices of those we are already stuck with. 

Finally we are able to put a plan before you to change our local licensing law. If you pass this recommendation then in future the presumption will always be to refuse any applications unless there is a very good reason.

And in a stroke of genius, Councillor Robinson who has done so much of the leg work for this excellent initiative has also been able to include hot food takeaways into the same policy.

This Cumulative Impact Policy is not the only measure we are taking of course;

We continue to engage with the council’s Alcohol and Tobacco Unit to ensure that underage drinkers are not buying directly from our local shops

We work with property landlords to persuade them to help manage the behaviour of their tenants

We work with the police to manage the crime and anti-social behaviour and are currently at work on a proposal for a complete ban on alcohol on the streets of our ward

We work with Public Health, the Whitechapel Centre, the YMCA and organisations like the marvellous Basement Project who send outreach workers to engage with our street drinkers. Only this week we heard at our Problem Solving Group that two of them have been persuaded into a drying out facility in North Wales next week.

Our aim is the provision of a better and more healthy range of shops and local businesses. We want to see something on offer to our residents other than off-licences, takeaways, pawn shops and bookies. 

We need to give people better choices that won’t destroy their physical or mental health or drive them further into poverty.

Passing this policy tonight will be a big step in the right direction.