By Daniel Hunter

Proposed tourism reforms could lead to an increase in underage binge drinking, takeaways filling high streets and small businesses being delayed from expanding, council leaders are warning.

Tourism Minister John Penrose has commissioned a Tourism Regulation Taskforce to explore ways of boosting tourism and reducing red tape in the hospitality industry. Its recommendations for widespread deregulation of licensing, planning regulations, health and safety rules, food labelling and employment restrictions are now being considered by a government consultation.

Though supporting many of its suggestions for cutting top-down red tape, the Local Government Association is warning others could lead to increased underage binge drinking, high streets full of takeaways and chain pubs, and local businesses being delayed from expanding.

The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, is calling for a rethink on proposals to relax the ‘two strikes no excuses' approach to businesses selling alcohol to under-18s, liberalising change of retail use guidelines so new businesses could set up without local residents having a say, and re-structuring the licensing process. It has submitted a response to the government consultation expressing its concerns.

Boosting tourism and supporting the hospitality industry is also being discussed at this year's LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport conference, taking place this week in Cardiff.

"There's great potential out there to boost tourism and reduce red tape in the hospitality industry. Both can play a huge role in creating vibrant communities, generating new jobs and supporting a healthy economy, and the taskforce should be applauded for much of the work it's done on cutting through complex, top-down regulation," Councillor Flick Rea, Chair of the LGA's Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said.

"However, removing the onus on bar staff and cashiers to diligently check the age of customers will inevitably lead to more underage youngsters buying alcohol. It may be a pain for staff in a busy bar, but anything we can do to avoid high streets being trashed by binge-drinking teens, booze-fuelled louts setting on passers by or children having their stomachs pumped in hospital, can only be a good thing.

"Cavalier liberalisation of retail premises use not only frustrates a council's role in making sensible local planning decisions, but means residents are prevented from having a say on what appears in their neighbourhoods and high streets. Such liberalisation can easily lead to characterful high streets rapidly becoming full of takeaways, generic coffee shops, chain pubs and bookies, something residents repeatedly tell us they don't want.

"Councils already work hard to support tour operators, heritage sites, hoteliers, restaurants, pubs and clubs, be they in historical towns, bustling high streets or seaside resorts. They regularly liaise with local businesses to understand their changing needs as well as give customers the confidence to buy from them.

"Many of the regulations the taskforce wants to do away with are actually commonsense checks and balances which are there for good reasons - to protect people and the character of the villages, towns and cities they cherish. Councils understand these needs and what regulations are required to serve them. It's unfortunate such an important review into tourism and hospitality was carried out without their input."

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