Burnley bar owner wants to call time on 'damaging' late-night drinking culture after lockdown
A Burnley bar owner believes the coronavirus lockdown could act as the perfect opportunity to execute a hard reset on the town centre's 'rapidly declining' nightlife scene.
James Gibb, who runs Illuminati in Hammerton Street, said now was the time to look at revisiting late night licensing which he believes is strangling a once thriving industry.
He is also calling for stricter enforcement on underage drinking, a stronger police presence and a stop to revellers drinking in the streets.
James outlined his concerns in a letter to Burnley Council, and hopes a meeting between councillors, the police and other bar owners can be arranged to discuss proposals once the situation allows.
"Over the last couple of years, and more noticeably since Christmas, the majority of people are choosing other towns to have a ‘night out’ and spend their money, " he said.
"While other towns like Whalley, Clitheroe, Barrowford and Colne are seeing growth we are seeing that people are choosing to come out later and later.
"I think restricting all licences to 3am or around there would help bring people to town earlier for their night out. At the minute they know they can go to other places like Clitheroe or Manchester until 2am/3am and still come back to Burnley for another three hours of drinking. No person needs to be drinking until 6am.
"People used to go out twice on a weekend, but if you're getting in at 6am there's no way you are going out the following day or night. I even spoke with one guy who said amateur football clubs were struggling now – and leagues were folding – because players were too hungover to play. This late-night drinking culture is having a real negative knock-on effect.
"Burnley is losing its appeal. It used to be the number one destination in Lancashire. We need to work on changing its image and bringing that appeal back."
James said bars closing earlier would also help take some pressure off the police, who have seen numbers slashed in recent years.
"If places were closing earlier the police would not be as stretched. There would be less incidents as most people would be in the takeaway or on their way home before 4am, instead of the current situation where you have drunken people in the streets while others are on their way to work or coming into town to shop.
"Underage drinking is another problem that needs looking at. I’ve seen a huge increase in young people trying to get into my venue with fake or borrowed ID. We have multiple ways of detecting these by checking their Apple ID, social media accounts or bank cards and can safely say that this has deterred a large number from trying again.
"However, we still see these young people in the street all night trying to get into other venues.
"I've spoken to customers as young as 20 who say that Burnley is 'full of kids' and this is one of the main reasons they don’t come anymore."
His views have been backed by a number of prominent industry figures who believe everybody now needs to work together for the common good.
DJ Scott Noddings, who has been DJing in town since 1992, said it would benefit the whole town if opening hours were more reasonable.
"It's a real shame. I have been DJing in town for nearly 30 years and so I have seen it decline, decline, pick up a bit, and then decline again.
"We had a meeting about this around three years ago. I was sat with Mick Cookson (former Posh owner) and at the end of it, he told me everybody would have a good natter but it would always go back to how it was because everybody is in competition with one another. And it did.
"Last Saturday, when I should have been out DJing, I was sat there and I thought, 'This is affecting everybody. It's a level playing field for the first time ever. Surely, this is the time to look at changing things'.
"I posted something on Facebook, and a lot people were saying we need to go back to how it was. I don't necessarily agree with this. What we need to remember is the kids that turn 18 this year, they were two when the late night licensing law changed. They have no concept of coming out at 7pm.
"I think the hours just need drawing in a little bit. They need to be more reasonable. And we need to be including younger people in any meetings we have. These are our customers, or our potential customers, and we need to be asking them what they want. Maybe get the student unions involved.
"The bar owners do need to work together though. It shouldn't be down to what time a bar is open. It should be down to which bars offer the most. Let the customers decide."
Remedy owner Madge Nawaz added: "We have been talking about this for a while, and now is the perfect time to make it happen.
"People are just coming out later and later. We started putting bands on in the bar a couple of years ago at 9pm. They're now going on at 11pm because nobody is in before then.
"The bars need to work together on it though. We could have it where all bars close at 2am, or earlier, and then if you're a club, you stay open until 4am. If everybody could meet up, once everything is back to normal, we could start putting a plan in place. Communication definitely needs to be better.
"We have to change people's perception of Burnley. At the minute it's a late night stop off destination, and that has to change."
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham said he is focused on making Burnley’s evening economy more prosperous, and will help in anyway he can.
“We so often talk about the nighttime economy but never the evening economy – the pubs, bars and restaurants that make our town centre such a welcoming place to go.
"We have seen some fantastic places open up but we need to support them. This proposal sounds like a great way to get everyone talking and focused on how we can rebuild our night scene in Burnley, incorporating all of those businesses.
"I stand ready to do my part and offer whatever help I can.”