Of course as time has shown, a proliferation of all night drinking venues and associated problems did not materialise - yet neither has a "continental café culture" emerged, as some politicians had claimed. More complex though is disentangling the various changes in alcohol consumption and other measures from the wide range of influences on drinking patterns.
Whilst alcohol consumption has fallen by up to 19% over the last decade, it would be hard to make a convincing case this has had much to do with the Licensing Act. A more popular idea is that 2004 coincidentally reached a point of 'peak booze' preceded by decades of rising consumption - during which a number of previous licensing changes had already facilitated a significant shift to off-trade alcohol sales. Since then younger people in particular have driven declining consumption but financial, cultural and technological factors seem more credible influences.
Some genuine impacts of the Licensing Act do appear to have been identified, perhaps most significantly that alcohol-related violence may have been displaced later into the early hours, rather than peaking soon after the historical 11pm pub closing time. Whilst total alcohol-related crime has fallen, this has been driven by an overall fall in crime and as such the proportion of violent crime that is alcohol-related has remained stable at around 53%.
As such arguably no significant positive or negative impacts of the Licensing Act have been demonstrated, though it may be legitimate to note longer opening hours as a positive in consumer choice terms - as of course trumpeted by free market advocates such as the IEA.
Cornwall's alcohol strategy lead, Jez Bayes, however says locally the act has 'made infrastructure planning more complex around hospital A&E and police shifts because of the end of a single closing time', though the issue of off-sales prices and associated pre-loading still needs tackling. As for the question of whether availability itself is directly linked to alcohol harms, this too is a complicated and somewhat unresolved area.
Alcohol licensing has also appeared within the political sphere several times since; in 2010 the Government consulted on proposals to 'overhaul' the licensing act in a bid to 're-balance' it. The aim was to give communities, police and local authorities more powers to remove or refuse licenses to problem premises, but it appears there has been little significant effect.
Total licenses have in fact remained relatively stable whilst the number of premises called in for 'review' appears to have fallen by 27% since 2009. This trend may be likely to continue as licensing teams are further hit by local government cuts. Meanwhile annual licensing figures for this year will not be collected to 'to reduce the administrative burden both on LAs and the Home Office statistics team'.
Local licensing policies - still valuable?
As with most things alcohol, the picture appears more varied when looking across different areas. A recent study has found that stronger local approaches to licensing policy are effective in reducing alcohol harms, which will no doubt please areas that have made efforts to ensure tighter licensing approaches. The study suggests that areas with the 'most intensive licensing policies' had an additional 5% reduction in local alcohol-related hospital admissions.
The broader question over whether the 2003 act itself adequately balances health, industry, consumer and political concerns will continue to be debated. Whether or not health should be a fundamental consideration in licensing decisions as it is in Scotland may be an increasingly prevalent topic - particularly if the tide of opinion appears to sway in favour of the 'public health' side of the debate.