Councillors have agreed to carry out a new public consultation exercise on proposed by-laws banning boozing in public places.
Scottish Borders Council plans to designate a zone in Hawick town centre – as well as in the centres of Coldingham, Eyemouth, Galashiels, Jedburgh and Newtown – within which public drinking is to be outlawed.
People found drinking within those areas could be fined up to £500, but the by-laws would not apply on common riding days or Hogmanay.
At the latest full meeting of the council, councillors were presented with a report by the authority’s chief legal officer, Nuala McKinley, outlining support for the proposals.
She said: “NHS Borders and Police Scotland continue to support the introduction of by-laws.
“Police Scotland had previously expressed their support with a view to reducing public disorder generally.
“NHS Borders are of the view that there are significant public health benefits in their introduction and the most effective way to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm is through tackling availability of alcohol, which includes reducing exposure.
“Stopping street drinking will contribute to this and to protecting vulnerable individuals and promoting safer communities.
“Both bodies remain of the opinion that by-laws would be a useful tool to assist and support other resources available.”
However, the majority of councillors felt that because the by-laws were first proposed in 2014, the public consultation carried out then is now out of date. Community councils that previously supported the proposals, such as Jedburgh and Coldingham’s, have now withdrawn their backing, for instance.
Speaking in support of further consultation, Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell said: “I think we should start a new consultation.
“I don’t think we can stop this process as this was agreed previously by the council and it would be undemocratic to do so.
“I also don’t think we can stop it now because we should be an evidence-based council and we haven’t heard any evidence either in support of this or against it, so we need further consultation and evidence.
“I think there is a balance between personal liberty and civic responsibility that needs careful consideration.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson said: “It’s been four or five years since we consulted the public. I’m all for what is being proposed, but in the interest of fairness, we need to go back to the public on this.”
However, some councillors believe the by-law plans should be abandoned.
Jedburgh councillor Scott Hamilton tabled a motion calling for the proposals to be scrapped altogether, saying: “By agreeing to move these by-laws forward, we will be starting a process which barborously pushes back our freedoms and personal liberties.
“It is freedom of choice which has underpinned the very ethos of life in the western world, and we this morning seek to change a liberty. Granted, it is a small liberty, but it must be treated with utmost care and consideration.
“We need to have a real and considered debate before deciding on this.
“When a family go to the park for a picnic and bring a bottle of wine, they are now caught in the battle between overlegislation and common sense.
“One of the endearing things about the Europeans, and I say this as a Brexiteer, is their cafe culture. This type of activity would be forbidden in places like Jedburgh.
“Let’s encourage a cafe lifestyle and its economic potential for increasing footfall and destination desirability.”
Although his motion was defeated by 21 votes to seven, councillors decided not to submit their by-laws to the Scottish Government just yet, instead opting to carry out more research into the potential benefits and disadvantages and undertake further public consultation.