Croydon Council is taking new measures this summer to tackle alcohol-related problems, as the town centre becomes a part of the Home Office’s local alcohol action areas project.
The council are teaming up with police and other local partners to encourage off-licences in Croydon town centre to help fight binge drinking by removing cheap high-strength beer and cider from their shelves.
The campaign was inspired by a pilot project in the centre of Ipswich that saw a significant reduction in crime and antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol abuse in the year between September 2011 and 2012.
During the 12 months of the campaign, there were 261 reported cases of street drinking, 100 fewer cases than the year before.
Councillor Mark Watson, Croydon Cabinet Member for Safety and Justice, is targeting similar results in Croydon.
“Saying no to super-strength cheap booze sales supports our efforts to tackle the binge-drinking culture and to help people who are struggling with this addiction,” he said.
“It will also help us to combat the crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour associated with these sales.”
His comments are echoed in a recent paper on alcohol abuse produced by the Health and Wellbeing Board in Croydon, which indicates that alcohol-related hospital admissions doubled in the UK between 2010 and 2013.
Although rates in Croydon were lower than the average across England, the numbers are increasing, as is the rate of alcohol-related crime in the borough.
Croydon police are well acquainted with this problem, as rates of alcohol-related crime are 50 percent higher in the borough than the English average – and rising.
“Street drinking has been identified as a problem, and we have specific plans to target it,” said a spokesperson for Croydon police.
Such plans have been in place since last summer when officers began targeting street drinkers responsible for anti-social behaviour in the town centre.
The recent bid by the council to curb the sale of strong, cheap alcohol is intended to support this work.
However, according to the police spokesperson, it is “too early to say at this stage whether the removal has had any effect.”
While most wine and beer shops in Croydon town centre have begun to voluntarily remove cheap high-strength alcohol from their shelves, not all off-licences are entirely positive towards the scheme.
“I do think street and binge drinking is a problem around here in Croydon,” said Mohammed Khan, owner of Sahi Food and Wine in Croydon.
“But obviously this will decrease our business right now. Most of our customers like strong beer, and do not like that we are not selling it anymore.
“We have different customers, and most of them do not have an addiction. We do not let drunk people into the store.”
While the new scheme may cause a loss in profit for some shop owners, alcohol related harm costs an estimated £144 million per year for Croydon, based on its population size, according to the Health and Wellbeing Board.
If the campaign in the town centre is found to be a success, the council is planning to roll out the initiative to other sections of the borough.