Councillor a lone voice as drinks licence is rejected

Bill White.
Bill White.

Despite a plea from a Galashiels councillor, a family event went ahead in the town on Sunday without a licensed bar.

Two days earlier, Scottish Borders Licensing Board rejected an application from the MacArts Centre in Bridge Street for an occasional licence to cover the “Walk on the Wild Side” rave, run by independent party organiser Big Fish Little Fish (BFLF).

Bill White.

Bill White.

As reported in these columns last week, the bid had elicited three objections – from the police, licensing standards officer Mike Wynne and the region’s acting director of public health Dr Tim Patterson, all of whom believed the sale of alcohol at the event would be at odds with the licensing objective of protecting children from harm.

In his submission, Dr Patterson reminded the board that Galashiels West, which includes the town centre, along with the Gala Park and Balmoral areas, was one of the “intermediate geographies” with the highest rates of alcohol-related problems in the Borders, as reflected in emergency attendances at hospital, deaths and antisocial behaviour.

The board’s decision, however, was not unanimous, with Councillor Bill White (Ind, Galashiels and District) supporting the application, but failing to find a seconder.

Mr White said he was satisfied with assurances from Kirstie Wilson, BFLF’s Scottish regional manager, that the strictly ticketed fun event – aimed at parents with children aged under eight – would not present a risk to the youngsters attending.

She told councillors her organisation had held over 100 similar stewarded events across the UK since 2013 and had never once received an objection to an application for a drinks licence.

After the meeting, Mr White, who is vice-chair of local regeneration group Energise Galashiels, said local licensing officers had used delegated powers in the previous month to grant around 50 drinks licences for a range of family-oriented events, including weddings and barbecues, across the Borders.

“These did not come before the board presumably because there were no objections,” said Mr White.

“Yet here, we had a well-respected national organisation coming to Galashiels for the first time and being refused a drinks licence because the venue, which is extremely well-run, just happens to be in a zone deemed to have alcohol problems. I can accept that some residential parts of Galashiels West do have problems in this regard, but the town centre, which we are desperately trying to attract visitors to, should not, in my view, be tarred with the same brush. It is counter-productive in our efforts to bring people to the town.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Wilson said Sunday’s event had been a “great success”, despite the lack of a licensed bar, with families from as far afield as Fife and Newcastle attending.

“It’s safe to say that, despite our disappointment over the licence, we will be back in Galashiels,” she added.