Less alcohol than ever at Sainsbury’s, Western Road? I don’t think so

Half-price wine offer as you walk into Sainsbury's Western Road
Half-price wine offer as you walk into Sainsbury's Western Road - is this responsible?

A while ago I spoke on behalf of residents to a licensing panel considering an application from Sainsbury’s. The supermarket, a very short way from Waitrose, wanted to double its size and so needed to apply for a new license to sell alchohol.

Residents and I were concerned given that the area already has an abundance of places from which alcohol can be bought. Residents suffer from noise, anti-social behaviour, violence and more. It has got significantly worse since the new 2003 Licensing Act came into force.

However despite residents’ objections and my strenuous arguments that the license should be strictly curtailed if approved at all, it was granted. The Sainsbury’s lies right on the border of the ‘Cumulative Impact Area’ for licensing but that made no difference. Sainsbury’s barrister successfully prevented me from debating the low prices at which the supermarket sells alcohol. He also claimed that overall the new twice as big shop would have less space devoted to alcohol sales than previously.

Sadly the shop was boarded up and under expansion then so I couldn’t do ‘before and after’ shots. But I went in recently to take a look and there seemed to me to be a very significant space devoted to alcohol – see all the pictures on Flickr. The first shelf to greet you on entering the store was promoting half price bottles of wine.

In August this year, while I was on holiday, Sainsbury’s put in to extend the hours of alcohol sales to almost 24 hours. Unfortunately nobody objected to this other than the Council’s Trading Standards*. This is not surprising because beyond a small piece of paper in the window, there is NO requirement to notify people living near premises applying for a license or wishing to vary an existing one. Trading Standards’ concern related to underage drinking, but once a “Challenge 21” scheme was agreed to by Sainsbury’s (a fairly standard condition) the objection was withdrawn and the licensing panel meeting was cancelled.

However the online licensing register still shows the extended license as not having been granted because checks are outstanding. I’m trying to find out what that means but it seems likely that very soon we are going to have a virtually 24hr off-license selling at supermarket prices. The licensing law is completely failing residents and this city – we seem unable to stop the spread of cheap booze nor the harm it is causing people directly or indirectly. When will our MPs step up to push the change my constituents are crying out for?

Find out more:
Sadly I can’t link directly to licenses, but at least there is now a web-based register. Enter the reference codes below into the search at http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/index.cfm?request=c1204374

Application to open bigger store: 1445/3/2009/00059/LAPREN (minutes of that panel)
Application to extend hours: 1445/3/2009/01692/LAPREV (papers for cancelled panel)

* As a councillor I can only object to an application if either I personally live or have a business close to the premises in question, or a constituent close by asks me to speak on their behalf. Otherwise I am unable to participate or speak to a licensing panel meeting. This is extremely frustrating.

UPDATE: I have now received confirmation from council officers that the license indeed has been granted to allow sale of alcohol from 6am until midnight and late night refreshment (i.e. hot food) from 23 until midnight. I also clarified the text above to make it clear it won’t be open a full 24hrs a day as the license currently stands. (13/11/09)