Prohibition on enjoyment

Last summer Scottish Borders Council announced plans to introduce by-laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in designated public places.

The council has issued a consultation document, which is available on its website and at contact centres. The deadline for responses is January 17.

The “engagement booklet and questionnaire” is not very informative and makes an incredible claim that the by-laws would “allow the council and its partners to meet the top priority of the Borders public, as identified in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Scottish Borders Household Surveys, making the Borders a safer place in which to live, work and visit”.

On SBC’s website is a report by the chief executive, dated May 30, 2013, on the proposals. It states “drinking in public may be quite acceptable and cause neither problem nor nuisance, depending on the circumstances” (Section 4.4) and “there is no definitive evidence that the consumption of alcohol in public in the Scottish Borders is a problem (5.1)”.

Statistics in the report show there is a significant issue with alcohol-related antisocial behaviour and attendance at hospital between midnight and 6am, but there is no evidence that this is due to drinking in public places, as opposed to in premises licensed by the council.

In the “Extract from 2010 Scottish Borders Household Survey” (Appendix 5), residents identified neighbourhood problems as “dangerous driving or speeding (46 per cent), parking problems (36 per cent), rubbish and litter lying around (30 per cent), people being drunk or rowdy in public places (22 per cent), people using or dealing drugs (22 per cent)”.

I would expect the authorities to address the three biggest problems before attending to minor issues, but sadly not. Police Scotland is removing traffic wardens from our streets and the council is scrapping the environmental warden service.

The statistics suggest that in most of the Borders “people being drunk or rowdy in public places” are “not at all common”, apart from Teviot area where such people are “not very common”.

It’s clear that the council has barely a shred of evidence that drinking in public is a problem. The ban will stifle the development of a cafe culture in towns and prohibit people enjoying alcohol at local picnic sites, while doing almost nothing to reduce drunkenness or rowdyism outside nightclubs.

The police already have ample powers to deal with even the least offensive behaviour. We should not accept this blanket ban on our freedoms on the off-chance that someone might commit an offence.

Alastair Lings

Tweed Road