Youngsters' North- South Drink Divide; Lack of Alternatives to Blame, Claims Report

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Byline: TONY HENDERSON Environment Rditor

A SHORTFALL in alternatives to bars in the region normalises binge drinking among young people, a new study has found.

Tim Townshend, director of urban planning and design at Newcastle University, set out to capture how "ordinary" urban young English people live, which included asking them to keep a diary to show how they spent their leisure time. This was followed up with interviews. The study focused on 15 and 16-year-olds in the North East and South East, and found that - rather than money or social status - it was a lack of viable alternatives that made the real difference to their drinking habits. "Bars and club are highly visible in many places where North East teenagers spend a significant amount of their time," said Mr Townshend.

"For example, a popular indoor leisure complex with teenagers also has nine chain-style bars which they have to pass when entering or leaving the cinema."

He said that the teenagers were well aware of lots of clusters of bars close to shopping areas and transport interchanges in the region, which are loud, colourful and fun-looking, with window displays, advertising boards and staff members - including scantily-clad female employees - handing out flyers on the street during the day. The visibility and noise from these establishments and the associated drinking culture was extremely high, and much higher than the South East.

"When asked what aspects of their life would change at 18, almost without exception young people in the North East related this question to going out at night to bars and clubs, even among those who currently professed little interest in alcohol," said Mr Townshend.

Most of the young people who took part had already tried alcohol, usually at around 11 to 13 years old in a family setting such as special occasion. …