As the holiday season approaches, we can expect even more of a buzz around Bishopston, with high spirits and revelry percolating through the neighbourhood - especially up and down the Gloucester Road, an area particularly well served by bars, restaurants, and food/alcohol outlets of different kinds.
Bishopston has quite a mix of residents - students, older people, and many young families - who are not always of one mind when it comes to late night celebrating. Many of us want or need to be asleep in the small hours, regardless of the party season. And not many residents are happy to be confronted with soiled pavements, overturned bins and broken glass littering pavements early on weekend mornings.
In August 2010 Bristol City Council designated the Gloucester Road a 'Cumulative Impact Area', after consulting with the police who had expressed concern about the level of crime and disorder linked with pubs and bars along the road. This measure was intended to limit any new license applications or significant variation/extensions of existing ones, acknowledging that the number of outlets has a cumulative impact on the atmosphere of the area. An important feature of the Gloucester Road CIA was to specify that new or extended licenses should 'not encroach on the normal sleeping hours of residents' - particularly with round-the-clock drinking permitted by the nationwide Licensing Act 2003.
One of the objectives of the Bishopston Society is to preserve and promote a high degree of amenity in the Bishopston area, ensuring that it's a pleasant and healthy place to live and to spend time in. One of our activities is to monitor alcohol license applications, to try to minimise the proliferation of outlets and to prevent the Gloucester Road from becoming a 'drinking destination' out from or into the city centre - which is itself a Cumulative Impact Area.
As a volunteer organisation, the Society’s role is necessarily limited, but we watch for new applications (which have continued in spite of the CIA designation) and sometimes we object, attending hearings and discussing pros and cons with the council and with other 'interested parties' who are expressing concern about an application.
With a CIA in place, the burden of proof is meant to be on the applicant to show that their proposal will not add to the cumulative impact already being experienced in the neighbourhood.
But in actuality it is very rare for an application to be refused, and a long list of successful applications has gone into effect since 2010. Some limited success has resulted (one convenience store was refused a 24-hour alcohol sale application), and the police usually manage to convince the council that 1:30 am is late enough for premises to be open. Recent statistics, the police report, show a reduction in crime in the Gloucester Road, especially violent crime - and in order for any premises to lose their license, crime/disorder has to be linked specifically to them. The kind of low-level vandalism and general squalor experienced by residents is usually too widespread to pin on any particular place and is not therefore in the remit of the police.
What about encroachment on normal sleeping hours? Noise nuisance can be deeply disturbing, especially late at night. 'The prevention of public nuisance' is one of four licensing objectives - the others being 'the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; and the protection of children from harm'. But with a variety of people in the area, it isn't easy to agree on an acceptable level of noise - one person's high spirits can come across as merely shouting. A group of revellers singing as they walk up the street at 2am might raise a shrug in one person while eliciting desperation in another. Residents feeling despair can phone the late-night noise pollution team - but there is one overworked team for the whole of Bristol, and the complainant would have to wait for the team to arrive with their noise-measuring equipment - possibly several hours - by which time the noise might have stopped, though the sleeplessness has been prolonged. Broken glass and other nuisances can be reported to the council's environmental health/street cleaning department, who will come out as quickly as possible to clear up the mess. But smashed wing-mirrors and scratched car-doors seem to be a hazard of living near a 'vibrant' area with lively night-life. And alcohol sales are very profitable - thus contributing to the health of the Gloucester Road economy.
Bristol City Council is under pressure to keep premises open and occupied, as well as trying to limit the number of bars and take-aways, at a time when retail premises are under stress from the recession and the increasing popularity of online shopping.
So we are in a time of changes and must adapt. The Society does its best to be realistic about licensed premises but nevertheless has an overall aim of resisting further proliferation, especially late-night activity. In the holiday season, we can expect 'Temporary Events', too - which mean long, late celebrations - but after all it's Christmas, then New Year - so a time of give- and-take.