Council votes for Wellington-wide booze ban

01:49, Feb 18 2010

Wellington city councillors have today taken the first step in introducing a city-wide liquor ban that could make a criminal of anyone caught carrying an open liquor container in a public place.

Councillors agreed for council officers to draft a city-wide ban proposal which will be presented back to the council's Strategy and Policy Committee next month. Iona Pannett was the only councillor opposed.

Once the proposal is written members of public will be asked for their views before the proposal goes back to be endorsed by the full council.

It would mean anyone caught carrying opened liquor in a public place would be breaking the bylaw and could be arrested.

It could be in place by June.

A civil liberty group says the move smacks of "a big brother society" and will turn law-abiding citizens into criminals.

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But the proposal has backing from police who say a city-wide ban would be easier to enforce than having separate bans in trouble hotspots.

A majority of councillors told The Dominion Post they were in favour of letting the public have a say on whether the ban should cover the entire city.

Council officers estimate that extra alcohol ban signs would cost up to $200,000.

The city-wide proposal came after Newtown residents called for a ban in their suburb to curb public drinking.

Inspector Simon Perry of Wellington said a Newtown-only ban was unworkable.

"There is a very strong possibility that there will be some sort of displacement – that is people drinking in the Newtown area will move to areas without a ban where they can drink."

Alcohol was responsible for a third of crime dealt with by police and cutting consumption would reduce crime, he said. However, he accepted that even people drinking responsibly in public places, such as at picnics in parks, on beaches and in the green belt, would now be acting unlawfully.

"The police's biggest power is one of discretion and how we apply the law. I don't think we will see [those sorts of offenders] appearing in Wellington District Court."

Ms Prendergast said she had faith in the police to enforce the proposed ban.

"It is a very small percentage of people who drink on the streets and it is a very big blanket ban to put in place but I trust the police will use their discretion.

"The sorts of behaviours we see and the effects of it – the broken bottles, the vomiting, the urinating, the defecating, particularly in our parks – are just not on."

Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Michael Bott said a blanket ban was out of proportion to the public drinking problem.

"It is complete overkill. It penalises the poor, particularly the homeless, and is a way for law-abiding New Zealanders to end up with a criminal record. It has all the hallmarks of a big brother society."

Wellington's Hospitality Association branch president Adam Cunningham said the ban was appropriate and would not affect hospitality businesses.

HOW THE BAN WOULD WORK

Carrying opened liquor in public would breach the ban Police request ban-breakers to empty their alcohol or leave the area If they refuse, they will be arrested If they do as asked but break the ban again on the same day, they will be arrested Vehicles in the ban-zone can be searched by police

Q&A

What happens if I open a bottle of wine at a picnic?
You could be arrested but police say that is highly unlikely as long as you are drinking responsibly.

Am I safe drinking on my front lawn or porch?
Yes. That is private property.

Does the bylaw affect garden bars and outside areas at pubs?
No. Those areas are covered by liquor licences held by each pub.

What happens if I walk on to the footpath outside a bar with a drink to have a cigarette?
If the area is not covered by a bar's liquor licence, then you could be arrested.

What events will be exempt?
None but the council would be able to issue temporary liquor licences for outdoor venues, for example, in a marquee in Waitangi Park.

WHAT NEXT?

March 18 – Draft proposal presented to council committee
March 25 – Approval in principle by the full council
March 30 – Public consultation period opens
April 30 – Written submission period closes
May 13 – Oral submissions heard
June 3 – Report back to council committee
June 25 – Council votes on the proposal

The Dominion Post