Perils of Zone-Ex: new drink curbs are creating a situation we battle to avoid

by Gerry Reynolds, Inverness Events Manager

IN my role I have spent many happy hours over the years considering the best way to manage that wonderful area surrounding each of my event arenas known as Zone Ex.

Last orders…street crush.

Zone Ex – which is short for the External Zone – can get very crowded as thousands of spectators enter and leave whatever it is I am organising. Think about the last time you poured out of a stadium or concert hall. I imagine the words “very crowded” and “very busy” would describe what you experienced on a good day.

As you know the Government says that we cannot organise major events because lots of people being in a venue is very dangerous and lots of folk entering and leaving an arena and travelling through Zone Ex is also considered to be very dangerous.

So far so good. We get that.

However here is my observation. While demanding that I do not stage any events on the grounds of public safety, the Government is unthinkingly creating events all over the UK each night which are providing Covid-19 with an idea opportunity to infect people.

As far as I am concerned ordering every pub and restaurant to close at the same time is connecting them in a way that has not been thought through. The Government is creating an event which used to be known as “last orders” and caused mayhem in the UK from 1914 to 1988 as any police officer would confirm.

Let me explain. The outbreak of the First World War brought about many changes to life on the home front, including a long-lasting impact on the serving of alcoholic beverages.

Public houses and beer had been a staple of British social and socialising life in the years before the First World War. During the Victorian era many pubs had been opened alongside worker accommodation, and were partially owned by the local factories, to provide convenient entertainment for the workers and also to recoup money previously paid out as wages.

However, following the start of the war in August 1914, dramatic changes would begin to affect breweries, pubs, and punters across Britain.

There had been ongoing fears within Britain that over indulgence with alcohol by factory and munitions workers would cost Britain productivity and starve the army abroad of ammunition. So, in 1914, the introduction of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) and its subsequent variations had sought to address some of these concerns.

Among the long-reaching powers granted to the government by DORA, was strict new legislation regarding the selling and consuming of alcohol. The then Minister for Munitions, Lloyd George declared: “We are fighting Germans, Austrians and drink, and so far as I can see the greatest of these deadly foes is drink.”

Licensing hours, the time when public houses were permitted to sell alcohol, had become more restrictive following the Intoxicating Liquor (Licencing) Bill of 1872. With the introduction of DORA they became stricter still. New laws meant that pubs were forced to close during the middle of the day to prevent all day drinking. The new hours saw establishments open initially between midday and 2:30pm, before staying closed until 6:30pm when they would then stay open until 9:30pm. Failure to observe these strict licensing hours saw landlords lose their licenses and pubs being forced to shut down. These enforced hours stayed in law until the Licencing Act of 1988.

So the new times for last orders concern me because historically they have been proven to generate public order issues and as far as I am concerned as an event manager it seems obvious to me that NOBODY is responsible for managing the safe departure of thousands of folk from our city centres.

The arenas that the Government are creating in our city centres would not be permitted to host major events even if the Event Industries top Event and Safety Managers filled them with stewards, designated areas, one way systems, social distancing signs and enough sanitisers to float a battleship.

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