A NATIONAL off-licence chain has succeeded in its bid to open a new outlet in Whalley Road, Accrington, despite a barrage of opposition from nearby residents.
A special all-day meeting of Hyndburn's Licensing Committee gave the go-ahead to Bargain Booze to convert the Just You women's clothes shop into an off-licence.
The shop has been owned by Hyndburn Council leader Peter Britcliffe for many years.
Around 30 residents packed into the hearing and said they had collected a 500-signature petition against the plan.
The court heard a disturbing claim from application opponent Counci-llor Graham Jones that three "semi-lawless'' juvenile gangs were terrorising residents, fuelled by alcohol bought from existing off-licences.
Councillor Jones said a bid by Trading Standards to expose one particular off-licence owner for selling drink to juveniles had failed, adding: "They have a pernicious way of obtaining the drink because it is always bought for them by people in their 20s. The situation is about to explode into crisis.''
He told the Bench: "In Peel Ward we currently have a migrant population, aged between 12 and 16. They are coming in from Milnshaw, Barnfield, Woodnook and Spring Hill. I've had complaints about them every night this week. They have been drinking in back alleys and parks.''
Sylvia Alty, manager of the Friar Court sheltered accommodation scheme, objected to the application on behalf of the 75 residents she looks after. She said one of them had been mugged by a drunk in broad daylight, while another had her window smashed.
Mrs Alty said: "Many of these people are afraid to go out at night. Peel Ward has been identified by the Government as one of the most deprived in the country. We want something to lift up it into a position of dignity - not another off-licence.''
Gerald Newton, of Derby Street, claimed there were already eight off-licences close to Just You.
He said: "Some of these places are being run by people with families, who are only just making enough to keep going. They cannot compete with a big company like Bargain Booze.''
Linda Codell, who made the application to operate the new off-licence franchise, said she had been operating a similar shop in Union Road, Oswaldtwistle.
She said there had been problems with gangs of youths at first, but she and her staff had overcome them by using CCTV cameras and working closely with the police and other shopkeepers.
She explained that photos of known under-age drinkers were entered in a book of people barred from the premises.
She claimed to be investing £100,000 in the purchase and conversion of the shop, which is to employ a manager and five staff, and pledged to employ doormen at night to deal with difficult customers for as long as necessary.
Richard Laithwaite, Bargain Booze's national licensing manager, said: "Accrington is no worse than a lot of other places where we have outlets, such as Liverpool, Stoke-on Trent and Birming-ham.''
He said his firm offered a £200 reward for information leading to the identification of any adults known to be buying alcohol for youngsters and insisted that anyone under 21 must produce proof of age.
Chairman of the Bench, Mr Les Hardy, said the magistrates were very concerned about the references to alcohol and public disorder. He added: "We are only too aware of the connection between crime and alcohol abuse. However, this issue is a complex one and cannot be solved by just one licensing decision.''
Granting the off-licence, Mr Hardy said a higher legal authority had ruled they could not take into account issues of competition or suggestions there were already too many off-licences in a neighbourhood.