Late-night levy plan for Hanley bars and clubs in bid to 'bring back buzz' to city centre
BARS, clubs and takeaways could be asked to pay a 'late night levy' to help support policing and volunteer work in the city centre.
The proposal is one of a series of ideas which will be considered as part of Stoke-on-Trent City Council's inquiry into how it can attract more people into Hanley at night.
A task group set up to review night-time trade yesterday heard evidence from several businesses.
They said major work is needed to tackle public perception that Hanley is unsafe at night.
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Concerns were raised that a lack of public transport, parking, branded restaurants and 'social' drinking venues is leading to Hanley failing to compete with major city centres such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Club owners and promoters also warned that a 2am curfew on opening hours, which some councillors and police have called for to tackle disorder, would see them struggle to survive.
Evidence gathered by the group will lead to a strategy being drawn up which could help shape future decisions on licenses and the type of businesses the council tries to attract to Hanley.
A negotiable night time levy would see businesses help fund projects similar to taxi marshals and street pastors, as well as supporting policing and giving owners a bigger say in how to tackle issues facing the city centre.
Danni Brownsill, chief promoter at The Sugarmill, said: "People will travel to see a show but they won't stay for a night out. At the weekend you can stay for our club night after a gig but people won't – ten years ago they would.
"A lot of that is down to the perception of Hanley being rough. We are not getting as many students anymore because they're terrified that if they come into Hanley they're going to get stabbed. It's a perception that we all need to work together to get rid of."
The number of people visiting Hanley at night is estimated to have plunged by more than 60 per cent in 10 years.
The city council is carrying out the review in a bid to 'bring back the buzz' to Hanley's 37 pubs and clubs, 17 restaurants, 16 takeaways, three music venues and two theatres.
Becky McClean, deputy manager at Hanley's JD Wetherspoon Reginald Mitchell pub, said: "The main change over the last seven years is that venues are emphasising loud music, dancefloors and cheap drinks.
"There's very little opportunity for social drinking. This has changed the target audience of the venues and the whole drinking culture.
"We've got no wine bars or cocktail bars, it's all about nightclubs. If you want to just come out with friends and have a bottle of wine there isn't much chance to do that in Hanley.
"That's why places like Stoke and Burslem are seeing sales increase."
The committee heard that taxis to and from Hanley are too expensive for students at Keele University.
Traders said a lack of late night buses and variety of businesses, combined with safety fears, is prompting visitors to venues like The Sugarmill and the city's theatres to leave Hanley immediately after shows have finished.
Lee Fredericks, who organises special all-night club events on bank holidays, said: "We've seen a huge decline over the last 10 years.
"I don't think it's just the problems Stoke-on-Trent has but also the national situation. The recession has been a huge factor."
Mr Fredericks said his events depend on being able to open late and claimed shutting bars early to tackle problems is a 'town mentality' which will force more people out of the city at night.
Manhattan Bar director Pete Terry said the council could do more to improve perceptions of Trinity Street, including replacing 'prison gates' used to enforce evening pedestrianisation with more attractive steel bollards.
Mr Terry said the bar had worked with police to improve safety, adding: "I would support a late night levy. If that solves problems in helping keep police on the streets I think it's a great idea."
Samina Yaqoob, whose family spent £40,000 opening the Chilli Jacks takeaway in Hanley last year, said the council's restrictions on opening hours had given competitors an advantage.
She called on the police and the council to work with businesses instead of imposing restrictions, adding: "It has been a complete and utter nightmare."
The task group is to hold further evidence sessions focusing on police views and night-time safety, as well as improving the range of businesses open in the city centre at night.
Members observed police on night patrol in Hanley last month.