They believe round-the-clock drinking has spawned a toxic town centre culture, replacing Burnley’s once vibrant nightlife with unsightly 6am bar crawls and a deteriorating reputation.
The “Time’s Up” campaign aims to use the Covid-19 lockdowns as an opportunity to push for a licensing re-think across the town, with a focus on earlier closing times, stricter enforcement on underage drinking, and a stronger police presence.
A petition calling for the public’s support has also been started, and will be presented to Burney Council before pubs and bars begin to re-open next month.
James Gibb, who runs Illuminati in Hammerton Street, is one of the bar owners putting his name to the campaign. It can be found here.
He has spoken passionately in the past about how difficult it now is running a bar in the town, but is confident it’s not too late to rescue Burnley’s once thriving nightlife.
“I’ve worked in the Burnley nightlife industry for more than 10 years, and I’ve seen first hand its rapid demise,” he said. “Bars used to be busy Thursday to Sunday, and town would attract people from all across the North-West.
“Pre-Covid, bars were lucky to even have a decent Saturday night, and even then people weren’t coming out until 1am. What I’m also seeing more of is people choosing to go elsewhere – Manchester, Clitheroe, Colne – and then coming back to Burnley at 3am because they know a lot of our venues will still be open for a few more hours.
“This sort of late night drinking, combined with the disorderly behaviour of people out at this time, has tarnished the town’s reputation and is seriously affecting the economy.”
The Licensing Act came into force on November 24th, 2005. It meant licensed premises could apply to serve alcohol for extended hours. Pubs had previously only been able to trade until 11pm (10-30pm on Sundays), while clubs were permitted to serve until 2am.
The plan was to create a “continental style cafe culture”. Supporters said spreading out the time people could drink for would lead to less binge-drinking, as well as fewer disturbances around “kicking out time”.
However, James doesn’t feel it has had the desired effect in Burnley.
“People are drinking at home for longer, and coming out later to drink. It doesn’t work.
“We don’t want bars shutting at 11pm or anything like that. We just want to see more sensible closing times. It’s not good for the town’s image, having drinkers wandering about at 6am. It’s not safe either. Surely it’s stretching an already overworked police force, too.
“Everybody I speak to says town was better when people used to come out earlier. Last year, when I was operating at a smaller capacity because of social distancing, and we were having to shut before midnight, even then, the atmosphere was better. People were finally coming out earlier, because they knew they had to get a seat.
“I feel like this is the best chance before anyone re-opens to reassess how we all operate and promote town in a new light. We’ve seen with other towns like Rawtenstall, Clitheroe and Darwen and Colne that there is potential to attract people to small towns.
“I really feel like the time to act is now, before our nightlife vanishes for good.”
Madge Nawaz, who runs Penny Black and Remedy, said developing an evening time eating and drinking culture in Burnley was vital for attracting an earlier crowd.
“We desperately need to get people out earlier. We’ve spent the past few months working with the council, the brand manager, the BID team, looking at ways we can boost what Burnley has to offer in the evenings.
“It’s not been easy because of everything that has been going on, but we’re confident that when things begin to re-open people will see a different side to Burnley.
“A lot of it’s about promotion. There are some incredible bars and restaurants in town now, more than there ever has been, but they need supporting. And we need to put an end to drinkers descending on town in the early hours. Nobody wants this image for Burnley.
“People coming out earlier will benefit all the bars and the clubs. This is all about stopping people going out elsewhere; getting them to come out in Burnley and stay in Burnley.
“When the restrictions were in place, I was speaking to a lot of the younger crowd; they were enjoying coming out earlier, going home earlier. It meant they were fresh the next day. They don’t know any different because this late-night drinking culture is all they’ve ever experienced.
“It may take a few months for habits to change, but the long-term benefits for the town could be huge.”