TOWN councillors in Malmesbury have expressed reservations about a total ban on drinking on the streets.

The introduction of a bylaw was suggested by town councillors and Malmesbury police as a way of combatting the problem of underage drinking and petty crime in the town centre. Only recently youths caused £1,000 damage in the cloister gardens.

Acting Sergeant Martin Alvis told councillors at a meeting last week that the police believe a bylaw restricting the consumption of alcohol in public places is one way of tackling problems in the town.

He said: "I am urging the council that it is something that it must do.

"Instead of just pouring the alcohol away and giving them a telling off, police would be able to report them for the offence, which would result in fines.

"Police believe this would act as a positive deterrent, which is lacking at the moment"

He said there is concern that the problem of underage drinking is likely to get worse with the warm, light evenings and the break-up of schools for the summer holidays.

"Historically there is always an increase in the lighter evenings and the summer months," he warned.

Councillors, however, decided further investigation into the implications of a bylaw are needed.

Coun Patrick Goldstone said everyone is still behind the idea of a bylaw but the council wants to find out more about the likely affect of a ban.

Mayor Charles Vernon said the council needs to tread carefully before making any final decisions.

He said: "We don't want to rush in. We need to fully understand the ramification of doing this," he said.

He said he is concerned that the ban could also stop adults from drinking on the streets.

"We had a lot of Morris dancers at the market cross with pints of beer in their hands last week. If there was an alcohol ban they would have been fined. We don't particularly want that kind of thing to happen."

Sgt Alvis said this would not be the case.

He said: "There is some concern that public events will be affected, but there are policies within the bylaw allowing certain events to take place. It would not be a blanket ban."

Coun Vernon said the introduction of the long-awaited anti-social behaviour order may help to combat problems.

He said he is surprised the orders are not ready yet.

"We first heard about them 18 months ago. Nothing has happened. The social behaviour system may sort some of the problem out, then perhaps we don't need this bylaw.

"But if it doesn't work we may have to consider the bylaw."

Sgt Alvis said police believe both the order and the bylaw are needed.

He said: "The two of them will work together, but the bylaw will be a quicker way of dealing with the problems of underage drinking."

The council agreed to contact other towns where the bylaw is already in place.

It hopes to get some feedback on the impact that the bylaw has had on anti-social behaviour on the streets and any problems that have been encountered.

The latest crime figures for Malmesbury have revealed that theft and criminal damage are the biggest problem in the area.

There have been 18 recorded thefts and 14 cases of criminal damage in the last two months.

Sgt Alvis said he is convinced that under age drinking is the main cause of petty criminal damage.

"I can confidently say that after my 11 years experience in the town. During daytime you see these young people and they are fine, but in the evening once they have had something to drink they are totally different."