Southend councillors address concerns over new ale business proposal for Leigh-on-Sea

A CRAFT ale store could soon open in the heart of Leigh under new plans revealed by a businessman – but not everyone is happy.

Oliver Smith wants to open Hopsters – a craft ale, specialist spirits store and micro bar at 18 to 20 Elm Road, Leigh, opposite Irma’s pizzeria.

Hopsters – which sells Essex, national and imported beers – has highly successful bars in Chelmsford and Ipswich.

The proposal was considered by Southend Council’s licensing sub-committee after fears were raised about Leigh becoming a “drinking centre”.

Mr Smith told councillors during the meeting: “I’m a born and raised Leigh boy and I am very fond of this town and want to open a positive business. Around 85 per cent of our business is retail led rather than a bar service. We’re looking to employ people from Leigh and to add to the community.”

The proposal prompted concerns from councillors over noise pollution, public nuisance and the protection of children in Leigh.

Objector, Cllr Douglas Cracknell, from Leigh Town Council, said: “We are fast becoming the drinking centre of Essex in Leigh and the residents are fed up of it.

“Mr Smith’s statement says that the business will bring people into Leigh, we have enough people in Leigh already.”

Leigh already has a bustling nightlife with pubs, bars and restaurants including the Estuary, Irma’s, and Ugo’s in addition to a many cafés.

Mr Cracknell told the committee: “We are becoming over-run with drinking establishments and we have a town full of successful shops and more will close after this pandemic. I don’t think this will not benefit Leigh but add to the problems.”

Hopsters bosses have spoken to Essex Police and say that during the day ,the retailer would be a “closed shop” and should not entice underage drinkers.

Mr Smith said: “We have this under control and the concern was with the local junior school that isn’t too far from the business.”

The applicant claims that the shop would not be open until midday and ensures that the business will be closed during the school run.

Promotion of alcohol will not be advertised in the shop windows which will not tempt youngsters into “a cheap pint” and they will follow the Challenge 25 policy.

Mr Smith stressed they would not allow people to drink at the front of the businesses.

He added: “We won’t allow people to be out the front, they can smoke or drink in our courtyard. I want this to be a successful business and I do not want to annoy any of our neighbours. I understand people will be talking and that is why we have agreed to not have the license any later than 9pm.”

Councillors will now consider the licensing application.

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Angela Sharda

Local Democracy Reporter