LICENSEES in Colchester have held an emergency meeting – faced with threats of a clampdown on the town’s night-time drinking culture.

Leading Colchester councillors are suggesting planned changes to the licensing laws could allow then to punish licensees who let customers get drunk and cause trouble in the town centre.

In response, about 30 publicans involved in the town's Pubwatch scheme met at the Bull public house, in Crouch Street.

They discussed the proposals, ways to improve the atmosphere in the town centre at night and concerns that councillors’ comments were giving licensees a bad name.

One councillor recently called for bars caught selling alcohol to underage customers to be temporarily shut down by the council, as a “short, sharp shock” punishment.

The suggestion has annoyed publicans, who say they are disappointed their Pubwatch group was not contacted about changes which would affect their livelihoods.

They feel the image of licensees is being tarnished by such proposals.

The group’s deputy chairman, Paul Ryan, said: “In the 15 months I have been running Liquid nightclub in the High Street, and as deputy chairman, I have personally witnessed the strong partnership between the Pubwatch members, the council’s licensing department and the police.

“Never has this partnership had a better result than the SOS bus.”

The bus – funded by the council, community groups and licensees – parks in the High Street at weekends, offering support, advice and help to late-night revellers. Pubwatch insists many of the measures suggested by councillors to improve the atmosphere in the town at night are already being brought in.

Pubwatch chairman Reeves Watson said he would invite the chairman of the council’s licensing committee, Barrie Cook, to the group’s next meeting to discuss the situation.

Mr Cook’s words about licensing and changes to the law at a meeting of the council’s policy review and development panel, on Wednesday were partly responsible for Pubwatch’s decision to call the meeting.

He said the council might soon have “the option to readdress licensing laws and bring to book operators who don’t play the game properly.”

Mr Cook added: “Local people are being given a better option to respond to problems, bringing to appeal at the licensing authority any misdemeanours which come about.”

Last week the council’s crime and disorder committee meeting also heard tough talk about clamping down on pubs, clubs and shops selling alcohol to under-age drinkers.

Councillor responsible for community safety, Tim Young, told the committee: “Licensing is an issue we have not got to grips with in Colchester.

“People are allowed to get drunk and then get drunker. Alcohol is the really big issue we have in this town.”