PUBLIC drinking could be banned on North Down beaches which have been badly affected by anti-social behaviour in recent years. Ards and North Down Council is considering introducing tougher bye-laws to prevent drinking on beaches such as Helen’s Bay and Crawfordsburn where hundreds of people regularly gather during good weather.

    Earlier this year bottles were thrown at police officers at Crawfordsburn beach when trouble broke out during what police described as a ‘large altercation’. Plans for a proposed new byelaw were discussed at a recent meeting of the council’s Environment Committee and could give the PSNI more teeth to tackle the problem, including on the spot fines for offenders and the ability to act if they reasonably believe a person has been consuming alcohol.

    The local authority is to now hold a consultation exercise on the proposed byelaws. The council’s Environment Director, David Lindsay, said that under current byelaws it is difficult to prove that young people were actually drinking the alcohol they were carrying along the beach or in other places, particularly when they saw the PSNI in the area.

    Mr Lindsay said the PSNI would bear the primary responsibility to enforce any new provisions, while the council would have an input into which particular locations within the borough they felt it was appropriate to have prohibitions in place. “There is no silver bullet on this,” he said. “There is the question of whether or not you want to regulate people’s behaviour in terms of drinking alcohol in public places or not”.

    The director said there was a certain level of public concern about issues that can arise when alcohol is consumed in a public place and the public order issues that can arise from that. “These issues go to the nature of those locations whether they are places a family might want to enjoy and do not want to be affected by that type of behaviour,” he said. “It is a very complex issue”.

    Welcoming the consultation, councillor Gillian Greer said it would help at Helen’s Bay at Easter, the May Day holiday and whenever attracted large crowds onto the beach. “When you walk down the beach at Helen’s Bay you can see police officers walking down the path so that gives people the opportunity to hide whatever alcohol they are consuming on the beach,” she concluded. “It certainly will help if they are able to hand out fixed penalty notices to people who are drinking in public”.

    Councillor Rachel Woods raised concerns about a lack of PSNI resources. “The PSNI are stretched so their priorities are not going to be going to a beach to take a bottle of cider of someone,” she said. “Their priorities are going to cases of domestic, sexual or child abuse and burglaries” Ms Woods asked what was considered to be a problematic incidence of alcohol consumption. “What I consider a problematic incidence of alcohol consumption might be very different to what somebody else would see as problematic,” she said. “Are we considering a group of teenagers as problematic, or are we considering people of a certain age having a bottle of Prosecco or gin”?

    Councillor Nigel Edmund said the authorities need to have the authority to deal with the problem. “I would far rather see the PSNI there to take the action but from a manpower point of view that is not logistically going to happen,” he continued. “The events most people are thinking of are spontaneous – the stuff that happens over the Easter weekend, or over July or August or even over Christmas”.