Monday, August 31, 2009

For the record

So far I've received two messages about the proposed byelaw regulating drinking in public places in Kirkwall, one against it, and one for it, but regretting that it does not go further.

My considered viewpoint is summarised in my letter to the anti campaigner, as follows.

Thanks for your message. I share your concerns, and indeed have voiced the same ones in Committee and at the Working Group to discuss this byelaw. Despite being initially opposed, as you are, I have come round to allowing it to be trialled.

What has to be understood is that this is not a byelaw to prevent drinking in public, but a byelaw to give police the ability to curb blatantly antisocial behaviour resulting from drinking in public. Asking someone to stop if they are being a nuisance gives them a fair chance to avoid trouble, and if they continue then it is a cut and dried offence in a way that breach of the peace isn't, which then allows action to be taken. Assurance were sought from the police by the Working Group looking into this that that anyone drinking in a public place who was doing no harm would have nothing to worry about, with specific assurance sought that this would be applied with such discretion as to not impact on Kirkwall's traditional festivities (e.g. 'Broad Street', the Ba, blackenings), and the police were happy to supply such assurance.

I am against additional legislation and restriction of civil liberty in principle, as evidenced by my futile but well intentioned Northlink ID card campaign, and was initially completely against such a byelaw, to the extent that my fellow councilors punished me by putting me on the Working Group. But we need to take into account external factors such as a Scottish Government that is looking towards its local authorities helping to promote responsible drinking, and that as of two years ago 27 out of 31 authorities (including Shetland and the Western Isles) have implemented similar byelaws and found them useful. The Kirkwall version uses the least onerous form of wording of any of the forms suggested by the Scottish Government, and the assurances given mean that the byelaw need not prevent even a Munich-style beer festival taking place on Broad Street (which I for one would welcome). Further, this is being approached on a trial basis, so if it is seen to not work it will be revoked, as sure as West Castle Street is two way.

So on balance I am in favour of giving it a try. I agree we should hold it as a right to be able to drink alcohol in public places, but do not feel it is my right to behave in an antisocial fashion while doing so. Consequently I do not believe that our civil liberties will be infringed, but if they prove to be I will campaign to have this bylelaw revoked.

Dave Gray from Radio Orkney has asked all the Kirkwall councillors for their views for an article tomorrow, and I have said the same to him as I have here. I am of course happy to discuss this further with you if you wish.

Yours sincerely,

Steven Heddle