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Alcohol crackdown policy for Croydon 'lacks detail'

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THE case that Croydon should be subject to the country's biggest alcohol crackdown is based on a single page of crime statistics and figures for ambulance callouts, the Advertiser can reveal.

The council wants to establish Cumulative Impact Zones (CIZ) in 17 of 24 wards, giving it more power to reject licence applications.

The zones would cover three-quarters of Croydon – including the entire north of the borough – and would be the largest ever created.

A strong body of crime and health data is needed to justify a crackdown covering such a large area.

When asked to provide the evidence compiled to support the new policy, the council sent just two sets of data, including one page of a Safer Croydon Partnership report showing the number of violent crimes per ward between November 2011 and July 2012.

The figures show four attempted murders in Thornton Heath and 23 incidents where people were seriously wounded in both Fairfield and Woodside, but no indication as to how many of the incidents were drink-related.

Paul Smith, Labour's spokesman for crime and public protection, described the lack of depth in the research as "a little odd".

"You can extrapolate from the crime figures because when it comes to violent crime and antisocial behaviour there's a significant proportion related to the use of alcohol, he added.

"But my concern is that if there is a lack of data on which this policy is based then it's going to make it very difficult for the licensing committee to refuse applications if they can't show there's a strong evidence base to support the decision."

The zones will allow the council to reject all licence applications – including amendments to existing agreements such as extending hours – unless the pub, club or shopkeeper can prove their business will not add to existing drink-related problems.

Cumulative impact policies cover all premises selling alcohol, serving food late at night or playing live music, though the council says it wants to curb the spread of off-licences.

In deciding whether to create a CIZ, statutory guidelines say licensing authorities should consider crime and disorder figures, antisocial behaviour and health-related statistics.

Other than a small amount of crime numbers, the only other evidence the council's licensing officers considered was monthly London Ambulance Service callout data.

It shows there were 1,168 callouts related to binge drinking in Croydon during 2012.

Simon Hoar, cabinet member for community safety, has attended just one meeting about the new CIZ policy but is confident the evidence considered is comprehensive enough.

He said: "There's no specific threshold for number of crimes or the impact on health which has to be met for a ward to be included. It's whether our officers think its appropriate.

"There may be wards that, on closer inspection during the consultation process, may not be suitable, but I'm confident these powers are justified."

The policy is out for public consultation, with April 22 being set as the deadline for comments.

Licence applications are currently automatically approved if the council receives no objections– and even if concerns are raised there is a legal presumption for them to be passed, unless there are strong reasons not to. Under the new plans, uncontested applications would still be automatically passed, but as soon as an objection was raised the pub, club or shopkeeper would face the difficult task of proving their business would not cause further problems in the area.

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