Oldham’s violent bars on Panorama

Tonight’s Panorama – at 8.30pm on BBC1 – features reports on a huge increase in violent attacks in bars in Oldham – and what the Lib Dem council there is doing about it.

Yorkshire Street is the main drinking area in Oldham which had a 200% increase in serious violent incidents in the first four months of this year.

That’s a stabbing or an assault with intention to kill on average every Friday and Saturday night.

But the Greater Manchester town has come up with a unique way of fighting back the recent spike in alcohol-related disorder.

The council believes promotions such as 2-4-1s, drink as much as you can for £5.99, and free shots, have fuelled an atmosphere of violence.

So it decided to review the licences of each of the 22 bars and clubs that sell cut-price drinks.

They have been told that if they want to sell alcohol at less than 75p a unit – about £1.88 for a strong pint of lager – they will have to change the way they operate.

The specific plans make interesting reading:

Oldham council has come up with a model of how its bars could be forced to work if the minimum price is not adopted.

Under the new conditions, drinkers will not be allowed to approach the bar and must wait in a post office style queuing system instead.

Customers would also only be allowed to buy just two drinks at a time and outlets could be made to provide extra door staff as well as paying for police officers to watch over the bar.

Any bars or clubs that refuse to follow the council’s new blueprint, could lose their licences.

I’m a little surprised that the Licencing Act is flexible enough to lawfully let one council make changes like that in how pubs and bars operate. All my own limited experience of sitting as a sub on licencing panels suggests that councils don’t have a great amount of discretion when it comes to what and what isn’t allowed.

But what do you think? Are the measures from the Council a sensible and pragmatic response to a real problem, or an over-zealous bureaucrat’s approach to a statistical blip? And will Panorama make a balanced argument or a one-sided polemic? Tune in to find out – and post your thoughts to our comments thread.

(hat-tip to Costigan Quist for tweeting about this this afternoon.)