It was never going to be an easy decision. Do you allow a supermarket to open up selling alcohol in the booze-alley of the city? Or do you say no, leave a prime site empty and risk it being reopened as yet another drinking establishment? That was the quandary faced by Portsmouth City Council’s licensing committee. And they came under pressure from all sides. But in the end sense prevailed and the Sainsbury’s got the all-clear, with conditions – it mustn’t sell alcohol after 9pm and will operate a strict Challenge 25 policy on sales. This came in compromise with the police who had originally objected, fearing people would ‘pre-load’ on drink before heading out to the pubs in Guildhall Walk.
It seems like common sense has prevailed. It means the community gains a city centre store and the stranglehold bars had on Guildhall Walk is broken.
As chairman of the committee Les Stevens said: ‘It seemed a better use of the premises than what possibly could have been another bar. It’s a new direction for Guildhall Walk.’ It may seem surprising to some, but the store had the backing of Ann Bartlett whose son Kyle was killed in a fight in its former incarnation as a Walkabout. She said: ‘I wouldn’t want to see that building opening as something like a nightclub after my son was killed there.’
But her view is one we share – it’s better to see the building being practically used and not as a bar. And the condition on the license means the shop won’t be constantly filled with drinkers hoping for a cheap alcohol hit before heading to the bars. Yes, pre-loading is a problem, but if people are going to do that they’ll buy alcohol whether Sainsbury’s was there or not. This is a compromise that should suit everyone.