Why NHS Fife was right to object to retailers’ alcohol bid

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NHS Fife’s objection to two retailers seeking approval to sell alcohol certainly raised a few eyebrows.

But with the debate over alcohol and over provision of outlets very much to the fore, it should not have come as a surprise.

Its objections to applications from M&S and Iceland to sell alcohol in a new town centre development in Glenrothes were rejected, but they are surely a sign of what may lie in store as more businesses look to go down a similar route.

The subjects of their objection may have come as a surprise – neither M&S and Iceland spring immediately to mind when looking at the issue of alcohol sales and consumption.

NHS Fife ‘s view is there are sufficient outlets already in a town with above average rates of alcohol related hospital admissions and deaths.

While drink may account for a minimal amount of Iceland’s business – many may ask why a frozen food store needs to sell alcohol – and M&S market is certainly more chablis than super-charged lager, this was about the wider picture rather than singling out the two established retailers.

In objecting formally – believed to be a first such move – health bosses were indicating a willingness to be part of the debate and to challenge applications which may lead to the creation of more outlets.

Kirkcaldy’s area committee has already called for as cap on off-sales licences – the first in Fife to do so – underlining that the issue is now being subject to much more scrutiny. That may mean businesses will have to come prepared to defend their corner when applying for a licence to sell alcohol – so be it.

When people who see the impact alchohol has on families and frontline health services add their measured voices to the debate, then it changes the game.

Getting the balance right will often be tricky, but the health of our communities is clearly now the priority.