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Watford mayor vows to tackle town centre's 'Ibiza on acid' reputation
Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill has vowed to tackle the town’s embarrassing reputation of being like "Ibiza on acid" by encouraging local bars, pubs and clubs to adopt a series of new measures.
On Monday afternoon, Watford venue owners, police and members of Watford Community Safety Partnership gathered together at the Watford Colosseum for a Watford Night Time Economy Summit.
Highlighting the fact the meeting and its agenda was not against the town’s night time economy, Mayor Thornhill outlined a need to change the culture and reputation of the town centre.
The Liberal Democrat representative said: "In terms of the evening and night, our town centre is slightly out of kilter.
"I understand very much what the night time economy contributes to the town, but I must say that we’re searching for something that doesn’t come alive at 11pm, that doesn’t just involve people under 25.
"For us it’s about balance and the whole community and the greater benefit.
"Venue owners have challenges in their own industry, everybody is concerned about jobs and profits. You only need to look down the high street and at the empty units.
"Part of my role is to ensure Watford thrives and doesn’t decline and die.
"It’s not about being anti-night time economy, but it is clearly anti things staying the way they are. Things have got to change."
Owners were handed a two-page document with a list of 26 model conditions to be considered for use in Watford town centre venues.
The list included notifying police 14 days before a significant event is held at a premises, a ban on glass bottles and containers, no beverages in smoking areas, introduction of electronic identification systems, increased searches, installation of CCTV, and hourly toilet checks for drugs.
Despite Chief Inspector Nick Caveney revealing that Watford’s violent crime has increased, with almost half occurring in The Parade and High Street, Mayor Thornhill said the town centre was "not terrible".
She said: "When we sit back and look at reality we’re saying we want things to be better and we want the level of crime in the town to decline further.
"It’s as if we culturally accept if you have a night time economy that means people will kick nine bells out of each other and go home via Shady Lane or A&E.
"It’s damaging our communities, it’s expensive in terms of policing costs and in terms of our reputation.
"Being described in the past as 'Ibiza on acid' was not something I was particularly proud of.
"We’re investing significantly in the town, all the plans are coming to fruition and we don’t want that ruined by the image of the top of town, which is an embarrassment."
At the end of the meeting, venue owners were given the opportunity to voice their opinions on points raised, but nothing was said.
When Mayor Thornhill was asked whether she believed the muted response showed the plans were well-received, she said she thought owners needed time to absorb the points raised.
As for whether the partnership would be targeting businesses offering cheap drinks and student nights, she said: "They might get a few more quid over the till, but what damage are they doing to the reputation of the town?
"I believe it’s better for business if their business plan is less about young people, more about getting people in after work, early evening, before going to the Colosseum, before theatre or football.
"We'll be having this conversation with venues, they’re putting short terms pounds in the till instead of long term changes to their establishment and their culture.
"I’d like office workers from Clarendon Road to want to walk up into town, have a nice bottle wine with their mains after work, like people do in London.
"You want mums with their children to feel a pub is a place where they can have a cup of tea and coffee, not a den of vice for heavy drinking.
"We want businesses to appreciate what they do that isn’t helping us, rather than us being prescriptive. But if there are complaints about their licence, we’ll look to revoke it."