Neighbours and police spoke out about plans by the Co-op to sell alcohol at a new store in London Road, Brighton, while a bigger nearby branch is redeveloped.
Co-op has applied for a premises licence for its new store in the former Maplin shop at 65-67 London Road, Brighton.
But the store is in Brighton and Hove City Council’s “special stress area” where drink-related crime, nuisance and anti-social behaviour have led to tighter licensing rules.
A council licensing panel sat to consider the Co-op’s application today at a “virtual” hearing.
The panel was told that the Co-op had reduced the proposed hours after talks with Sussex Police and the council licensing department.
Instead of 6am to 11pm, the Co-op wanted drink to be on sale from 7am to 10pm.
It also agreed to limit the strength of beer and cider on sale, except for craft beer and speciality drinks from micro-breweries.
Sussex Police told the panel that there were 40 reported crimes, ranging from drugs, robbery and theft to violent crimes in the London Road area last year.
Police licensing officer Hannah Staplehurst said that there were 32 incidents of anti-social behaviour in the past two months at The Level, where officers carry out additional patrols.
She said that the force had been using extra government funding for Operation Safety to deal with serious violence and weapons at The Level.
She said: “Shoplifted alcohol is taken to The Level to be consumed and shared with others.
“Recently, we arrested two drunk 15-year-old girls at The Level for assaulting police officers doing their job on patrol under Operation Safety.”
One of the three panel members, Labour councillor Theresa Fowler, said that she worked near a Co-op branch and often saw shoplifters run past with the cheaper alcohol which did not have security tags.
Sussex Police barrister Edward Elton said that the council’s policy assumption was to refuse applications for new off-licences in the special stress area.
He said that there were no exceptional circumstances to justify granting the Co-op a licence to sell alcohol at the old Maplins.
Mr Elton said: “This is a place where there are problems with alcohol.
“It is just common sense that increasing the number of doors through which alcohol can go, bought, stolen or otherwise, is, in capital letters, a bad thing.”
Green councillor Pete West, who represents the St Peter’s and North Laine electoral ward, said that he could not see any exceptional reasons to justify allowing a new licence in the special stress area.
He said that the area faced numerous issues related to alcohol and anti-social behaviour at The Level, in Providence Place and Elder Place.
Councillor West said: “It would be an absolute travesty if this application were to be granted.
“It would really damage the integrity of the policy and impact very heavily on a very challenged area of London Road.”
He said that chipping hours off the side would not make a difference to problems with street drinking and alcohol-related crime.
Judi Lynn spoke on behalf of the London Road Area Local Action Team (LAT), which represents residents and businesses in the area.
She said that its concerns included the levels of crime and disorder, worries about public safety and the protection of children.
She said: “As evidenced by the police, there are a lot of problems and a lot of places where you can buy alcohol.”
Richard Arnot, for the Co-op, said that it was losing 8,000 square foot of retail space in the area because of the rebuild of its much larger store at 119 London Road.
The company had a licence for the rebuilt shop, he said, but wanted to open at the other end of the road while offering the same selection of products offered in all its stores.
He said: “Do consider who we are and how we operate. You have a justification for finding exceptional circumstances. We had a very large store at 119 London Road and that site is being redeveloped. The new store will be considerably smaller.”
Labour councillor Carmen Appich asked why the Co-op needed a licence for a second shop when it had a business just a short distance down the road.
Fellow Labour councillor Jackie O’Quinn, who chaired the panel, said that a business’s management practices did not count as an exception because the council expected high standards from all licensed premises.
She did not think that the loss of floor space was a reason, either.
Councillor O’Quinn said: “I understand you want lots of space. Why, having got one licence already, why would Co-op want to have another one in a special stress area when you know there are so many issues.
“It is puzzling as to why you’d go for another one in that area. There are quite a lot of shops along there where people can go. I am mystified by that.”
Mr Arnot said that there was an opportunity at the site for the regular everyday customers who “would not dream of causing problems”.
The panel retired to make its decision which is due to be made public in five working days.