NEW licensing regulations may help to clean up the late night drinks scene in a street at the foreground of complaints over drunken behaviour.

That is the view of the man in charge of policing the licensing of premises in Durham city centre and the rest of the north of the county.

Sergeant Tim Robson, the North Durham licensing officer, hopes the new system will help to draw a line in the sand and improve the way pubs and clubs operate, to prevent the sort of anti-social behaviour that has blighted the lives of residents in the vicinity of town and city centres on weekend evenings.

North Road, in Durham, is seen as a key battleground in the issue, with residents perpetually attempting to stem the tide of new and expanding licensed premises, in the face of wealthy pub chains prepared to set aside large sums of money to fight the legal battles required to win prized licences.

The City of Durham Trust has long been a driving force behind objections to new licence applications.

Having failed in its lengthy court battle to prevent the former Robins cinema becoming a 700-place Walkabout verticle drinking establishment - an addition to the North Road drinking area last year - the trust is now preparing to oppose the pub gaining a late- opening licence.

Owner Regent Inns is seeking to add an extra hour to extend Walkabout's permitted opening time to 2am, to bring it in line with neighbouring nightclubs.

It is one of several extension applications being made before responsibility for liquor licences passes from local magistrates to city council control, from next year, under the terms of the Licensing Act 2003.

A draft licensing policy is being drawn up by the council, but the trust believes that is hastening a flow of late licence applications by establishments in North Road.

Trust chairman Roger Cornwell said he hoped the new regulations would improve matters, but he believed that in the short-term it was leading to the spate of late hours applications.

"I could live with some pain now if it meant things were going to improve in future," he said.

"But what we are seeing now is the pub groups rushing in to get their 2am licences in place before next year, so they will be allowed to keep them under the regime, because they fear they wouldn't get them in a year's time.

"It's like a case of 'buy now, while stocks last', and they are prepared to spend large amounts to ensure they go through.

"The average turnover at some of these places is £40,000 a week, and if you look at their profitability, they make as much in a week as the City of Durham Trust has gathered in the last six years.

"In terms of resources they can also easily outgun the council."

Sgt Robson sympathised with the trust, but he believes the regulations, including a national registration scheme for door staff, will help police to control the situation.

He said: "The fact that some of these establishments may win late licences now does not mean it is carte blanche for them to stay in place permanently.

"If we find that standards are slackening, that under-age drinking is becoming prevalent, or if people are pouring out on to the streets drunk from certain premises, then we can pinpoint the source of that problem and ensure it is dealt with.

"We're going to be pro-active on this, gathering evidence and then approaching the licensees with that information and insisting they take the responsibility to ensure their licensing objectives are maintained."

Views on the city's draft licensing policy must be submitted to Jane Kevan, the city council's licensing manager, by November 12. She can be contacted on 0191-301 8786.

The late licence bid for Walkabout will be heard by North Durham licensing magistrates on December 8, at the city magistrates' court.