Friday 13 August 2010

Street drinking control

Deptford has been highlighted as one of three areas where street drinking is a problem, in a report that was considered by Lewisham's Mayor & Cabinet meeting last month.

The council wants to use a Designated Public Place Order to implement a borough-wide street drinking control zone. This effectively means that the police have the power to stop people drinking in public 'to assist in tackling problematic street drinking linked to anti-social behaviour'.

Three areas have been highlighted - Deptford, Rushey Green and Sydenham - and as a result, the report says, the police recommended that the drinking control zone be put in place across the whole borough.

The report does propose other measures as well as the borough-wide zone; engagement with drinkers and continuation of outreach services and stepping up enforcement of licensing breaches. What resourcing will be available for these measures - particularly outreach services - is questionable, with the council intending to cut its spending by a third over the next few years.

One further proposal is the creation of 'designated drinking areas' within which street drinking would be tolerated, subject to certain 'acceptable behaviour' conditions. Apparently Rushey Green has been suggested as one such area and the council agreed to investigate other areas. It all sounds a bit arse-about-face to me.

The south end of Deptford High Street and the area outside the post office are popular places for street drinkers to congregate and invariably the scene of drunken brawls and inconsequential rows at various times during the day. There is no question that in some cases street drinking leads to 'anti-social behaviour' in Deptford, although the extent to which people perceive it to be a problem varies depending on the individual. As someone who is fairly streetwise, self-confident and has lived in London for many years - and crucially does not suffer it on my doorstep - I regard it as nothing more than a bit of a nuisance.

The way other people perceive it - particularly those who live or have businesses nearby, who are themselves vulnerable or less self-confident - undoubtedly differs.

The question is whether this measure is necessary, appropriate or effective.

The police already have powers to deal with people who are drunk and disorderly. By implementing a drinking control zone, the council is additionally giving them the power to decide who can drink in public and who cannot. Experience shows that such discretionary powers, while applied as intended in the majority of cases, are also very much open to abuse.

Drinking control zones already exist in Lewisham & Catford town centres, as well as Upper Brockley Road. An independent review of these zones that was carried out last year for the council concluded that they were limited in their effectiveness, particularly in the medium to long term and additionally required extensive resourcing of support agencies to have any impact.

Changes in drinking culture - the loss of many public houses and increase in the price of alcohol in pubs, combined with the availability of very cheap alcohol in off-licences and supermarkets, have contributed to the increase in street drinking. The increase is not just among those who are alcohol-dependent, but also those on low incomes who seek social contact. It's also worth pointing out that drunkenness does not make everyone aggressive or troublesome - some people are aggressive when they are sober, while some become more mellow after a few drinks.

Introducing a borough-wide street drinking control is not the panacea to all ills, and the implementation of alcohol control zones creates unreasonable public expectations. A borough-wide control zone will not end street drinking.

Transpontine has made a convincing case against the need for a DPPO in Lewisham, as well as raising some of the broader issues involved.

A consultation period is in process - you can answer the questions by taking the survey here up until 27 August, although Transpontine doubts from the tone of the press release that this is anything more than box ticking. In fact he's right - the decision has already been taken by the council and was agreed in the Mayor & Cabinet meeting last month. The report to the council explains the urgency of the matter by saying that it needs the power to be in place 'for a period when street drinking is generally at its peak' - which presumably is the summer months.

1 comment:

CarolineLD said...

My perception of street drinking in Deptford is very similar to yours, although as you say it's quite a subjective thing. But then, that's the problem with allowing the police to enforce their subjective views. I've completed the 'consultation' questionnaire, so that was a few minutes wasted...