Hawick nightclub boss Neil Gillies has got third time lucky in his long-running bid to secure an extra hour’s drinking for his punters at weekend.
Scottish Borders Council’s licensing board granted Mr Gillies a permanent amendment to his operating plan for Base, in Baker Street, allowing it to open until 3am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, instead of 2am as at present.
That thumbs-up, at the third time of asking, gives him a level playing field with with competitors in Galashiels as two nightspots there, in Overhaugh Street, are the only places in the Borders currently allowed to serve weekend revellers until 3am.
Galashiels has been allowed that extra hour because it is classed as a student town, but the board heard last Friday that 72% of further and higher education students enrolled in the town do not actually live there.
The statistic was highlighted by the solicitor representing Mr Gillies, Niall Hassard, of Edinburgh law firm TLT.
He was challenging the board’s policy, adopted three years ago, stating that any applications for extensions beyond 2am should only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
He also claimed that Galashiels’ exemption from that edict because it is a student town is “patently unfair”.
Although the policy was cited in objections from the police and NHS Borders, the board, after a short debate, voted 4-3 to give Mr Gillies the extension he wanted.
Noting that his client’s bid had sparked no objections from neighbours, Mr Hassard presented letters of endorsement from Hawick and Denholm councillors Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall and Agnes Bell, care services co-ordinator at Eildon Housing Association, owner of the Teviot Court sheltered housing complex opposite Base.
Mr Hassard backed up his application with responses from two 2000 Freedom of Information Act requests.
These confirmed that of the 3,591 students enrolled at Borders College in Galashiels, only 697, or 19.4%, live in its TD1 postcode area, and, out of the 600 students at Heriot-Watt University’s Netherdale campus, 200 do not live in Galashiels.
“This means 72% of students at these two campuses reside outwith Galashiels, so it is wrong to depict the town as a student centre when the vast majority are not resident there and are spread around the Borders,” said Mr Hassard.
He claimed Mr Gillies’ business was being adversely affected by the terminal hour anomaly.
The number of bar staff there had been cut from 12 to eight, the number of door stewards had been halved, a cleaner had been paid off and Mr Gillies himself had been forced to take a second job in the building trade, he said.
“If this business fails, it is because this board’s policy is not allowing it to succeed,” concluded Mr Hassard.
Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston said: “I now believe there is an exceptional circumstance in that here we have a Borders business which is working at a disadvantage, compared to premises in Galashiels.”
His motion to approve the application defeated an amendment suggested by Galashiels councillor Bill White to grant approval for a six-month trial period by four votes to three.