Alex Buchan, partner in the property department, Brodies, fears that the relicensing of Scotland's pubs will mean the demise of many rural establishments, seriously affecting the tourist trade.
The Scottish Government sees the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, which comes fully into force on 1 September, as a very important reform to tackle Scotland's "booze culture". However, the law has several unintended consequences.
The new system made it much easier for licence holders who made their applications by the prescribed dates to obtain a Premises Licence. However, statistics indicate that 20% of licensed premises in Scotland (some 3,120 licensed businesses) failed to apply by these dates, suggesting that they will cease selling alcohol on 31 August.
Arguably, the urban areas of Scotland would benefit from a reduction in licensed premises, but what of rural areas? The consequences could be dire for the tourism industry and the wider community.
VisitScotland reported that 16 million visitors spent £4.2b in Scotland in 2007, with related employment representing more than 9% of the total Scottish workforce (13.8% in Perthshire and the Highland region). Just under half of national visitors to these rural areas are hikers or hill walkers. The highest proportion of spend by these visitors was on accommodation (31%) with eating and drinking placed third (18%).
What happens if hotels and pubs in rural areas cannot sell alcohol from the end of this summer? In short, the business may no longer be viable and will close. This may mean limited or no facilities in the area, so visitor numbers decline, affecting other businesses and resulting in unemployment. The community loses its last focal point - a catalyst for rural depopulation.
Several years ago the Scottish Executive set a target to increase tourism in Scotland by 50% by 2015. The requirement to halt, if not reverse, rural depopulation is widely acknowledged. Only time will tell, but it is concerning that these goals may be defeated by a law which has consequences far beyond its primary purpose.