NIGHTCLUBS in the Highlands have been given the go-ahead to stay open until 4am over the Christmas and New Year period for the first time.
Revellers heading out over the festive period will be allowed to drink alcohol and dance for an extra hour on six different nights in Inverness, Dingwall, Aviemore, Wick and Thurso.
It comes only a month after the controversial "Cinderella" curfew – which had barred patrons from entering late night venues after midnight – was axed by the Highland Licensing Board.
The rule had been in place for almost a decade and its removal has prompted nightclubs to seek longer trading hours to counter competition from pubs which can open until 2am during the festive period.
Nightclub bosses feared with no curfew in place patrons could stay for longer in pubs so moved swiftly to gain an extra hour.
The board met in Inverness on Tuesday – but the 4am applications were not considered by councillors.
Instead, chairwoman Maxine Smith gave her consent under delegated powers, despite a police objection to the city nightspots’ extensions.
Northern Constabulary inspector Archie Henderson said he was concerned an extra hour drinking could impact on key licensing objectives like public safety and crime prevention.
He said the force was also concerned that it was still early days for the curfew and no evaluation had been carried out on its effect.
Councillor Smith said there had been no complaints that the curfew’s removal had caused problems and some licensees had reported it was working well.
She said nightclubs in other parts of Scotland opened until 4am during the festive time and did not expect it to cause any serious issues in Inverness.
She said the nightclubs wanted a two-hour window but she baulked at the 4am closing time for the entire festive fortnight.
"I accept that we have just abolished the curfew," she said. "But there is no indication it has been detrimental in any way, there are no police reports to the contrary.
"I have looked at this, I have to look at this across the Highlands. It is acting as a pilot."
The board’s policy for minor variations of licences is that the convener makes the final decision.
It will mean clubs will not shut until 4am on Friday and Saturday night this week; Christmas Eve; Friday and Saturday, December 28-29, and Hogmanay.
A key condition of approval is that hot food should be served until 4am.
The Inverness venues which secured a 4am licence are Johnny Foxes, The Den, Vinyl and Play, Hush and Miami.
The Vault in Aviemore, Thurso’s Newmarket Bar and Skinandi’s Nightclub, The Waterfront in Wick and The Picture House in Dingwall are the other venues granted extended opening times.