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By Rebecca Lees
The city has denied Tesco an alcohol license for a planned new store on St Aldate’s over concerns that alcohol sales would damage the efforts of a nearby homeless shelter.
City councillors said university authorities and local police were worried that a close source of alcohol would fuel crime and destructive behaviour in a neighbourhood “well known for crime and homelessness” and frequented by students.
A Tesco spokeswoman said the company is still “considering [its] options” on the St Aldate’s location. The national supermarket chain has also applied for an alcohol license for a new store elsewhere in central Oxford, with a decision expected on that application by the end of the month.
City councillor David William chaired the panel which decided last Thursday to refuse Tesco a license to sell alcohol until 11 PM at the former location of the Solus Lighting Shop.
William said access to alcohol in that location would “damage a whole series of rehabilitation services nearby”. Many residents of the shelter for the homeless close-by have problems with alcohol, he said, adding that Cambridge Terrace, close to the location, was “well known for crime”.
He pointed out that a fortnight ago an alcoholic drowned under Folly Bridge, which is just 25 yards away.
William also said the council took into account the objections of workers at Christ Church college, who were concerned about members of the public taking alcohol from the planned Tesco to drink in Christ Church meadows, and of local police, who were worried about the area’s perennial problem of street drinking.
Tom Middlehurst, a student at Christ Church, which is on St. Aldate’s, said that blocking Tesco’s alcohol license would not solve this problem.
“This could have been a way for students to get alcohol and drink responsibly, but they’ve been denied it,” Middlehurst said.
Worcester student Michael Brennan said: “I think it’s encouraging that Oxford Council are concerned with the levels of street drinking.”
But he pointed out that with Sainsbury’s in Westgate open until 8 PM, and Sainsbury’s Local and the Co-op until 11 PM, “The late night alcohol run is already tailored to”.
Councillor William said that in their pitch Tesco offered to minimise the effects of having an alcohol license by training staff and not selling individual cans. Laurence Baxter, another city councillor on the panel, said the company also offered to reduce the hours during which they would sell alcohol.
William acknowledged that “one more [place to buy alcohol] wouldn’t make a difference . . . But various institutions felt that it would be a problem in that location”.
Tesco now have the option of appealing the council’s decision and taking the matter to the Magistrate’s court. Tesco’s spokeswoman for smaller stores Melanie Chiswell did not confirm whether Tesco would go ahead with opening the store. She said: “We are considering our options”.
Tesco have also bought the now vacant Borders on Magdalen Street, where there is already a Sainsbury’s Local. Oxford City Council Licensing Manager Julian Alison confirmed that Tesco have applied for permission to sell alcohol at that location every day, with a decision due by 22 June.
Michael May lives in Worcester accommodation on Beaumont Street, around the corner from the proposed Tesco store. He welcomed the planned store, saying: “Sainsbury’s have had a monopoly in the town centre for far too long”.
But student Giles Shaw, who will live in Beaumont Street next year, said that while a new Tesco might mean lower prices he was worried about Tesco taking over local market share.
Tesco currently owns more than 2,000 stores in the United Kingdom, employing more than 285,000 people and recording £41.5bn worth of UK sales in 2009. In Oxford alone Tesco has two stores, based in Cowley and Summertown.