An ambitious £3.5m plan to open a group of nightclubs and bars in Cardiff city centre – bringing 200 new jobs into the area – is being hampered by the police saturation zone in place around St Mary Street. With two other saturation zones in operation around City Road and Crwys Road, and two more earmarked by the council for Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way, is this the best way to tackle the problem of drunken anti-social behaviour in our city centre or will it simply stifle business?
Saturation zones make it harder for new and existing businesses to gain alcohol licenses, as any such plans within a zone triggers an automatic objection from the police. This objection impacts on any attempt to open licensed premises on the streets – including clubs, pubs, music venues, off-licenses, supermarkets and restaurants. There have been calls for the saturation zone policy to tackle vertical drinking establishments in particular, rather than become a blanket ban on all new licensed venues.
St Mary Street
Cardiff council introduced the city’s first saturation zone on St Mary Street to combat the rise in violent incidents around the popular night spot. This has worked in a sense. The number of violent incidents has dropped from 883 in 2007/08 to 385 last year.
But two of the largest clubs at the bottom of St Mary Street, Square and Liquid-Life, closed down 18 months ago and, thanks in part to the saturation zone, have remained empty eyesores along the bottom of the high street ever since. Could this have impacted on the number of incidents in the area?
It is these two nightclub venues that Stephen Thomas, 58, the former chief executive of nightclub operator Luminar, wants to breathe new life into. Mr Thomas applied for an alcohol license to reopen the Liquid-Life venue as a 700-capacity club named Wonderland, themed on “the darker side of the Alice in Wonderland story”.
He has said it would be an upmarket alternative to the vertical drinking clubs that dominate Cardiff’s nightlife. Under the plans, part of the club would become a second smaller venue called The Event which would host a range of special events, such as plays or concerts.
Mr Thomas told the South Wales Echo:
“Cardiff needs these premises open again because that end of town looks absolutely terrible. They need the best operators in the world to run them and that’s us. The councillors know that something has to be done with St Mary Street. They have done a beautiful job further up the road and then you go past the pedestrianisation and it looks terrible. There is nothing else that can fit into that building (Liquid-Life) but a nightclub – it was physically designed to be a nightclub.”
However, South Wales Police have objected on the grounds of “prevention of crime and disorder” in the city centre. The final decision on the matter will lie with the council’s licensing committee.
Anti social behaviour
So, we have seen the number of violent incidents along St Mary Street have plummeted since the saturation zone was brought in. But some councillors are concerned that these zones simply force new licensed venues to open elsewhere in the city centre, with drunken violence following.
The figures may corroborate these concerns. Whereas violent incidents on St Mary Street have almost halved in three years, official police figures show violent crime incidents have increased by 387% on Greyfriars Road, up from 102 incidents in 2007/08 to 258 last year. Despite having just six licensed premises, including Tiger, Tiger and Varsity nightclubs, it is the second most violent city centre street after St Mary Street.
Churchill Way, which has 11 licensed premises, had 37 violent incidents last year, up from 25 in 2007/08.
A public consultation with businesses and residents on Greyfriars Road and Churchill Way found that most back the saturation zone proposal. Residents have complained of late night disturbances and have said they feel intimidated by intoxicated revellers.
Violent crime on the whole in Cardiff is down, but Licensing Sergeant Scott Lloyd has told the South Wales Echo: “Despite the saturation policy Cardiff city centre still has the most licensed premises per square mile of anywhere in the UK.”
What do you think?
There is no denying Cardiff has a wealth of clubs and pubs to choose from. But with new businesses wanting to invest in the city centre with money and jobs, should the council and police be slamming the door in their face in these economically troubled times?
Do you think Cardiff has enough places to drink and the saturation zones are a good idea? Are there too few restaurants and music venues, which are unfairly hurt by the saturation zones? Are these zones the best way to tackle the problem of drunken violence in our city centre?
What do you think? Take our poll and leave a comment below. Mine’s a pint.