Dealing with the drink in the capital

OUT AND ABOUT: JJ Murphy's bar manager Blair MacTaggart says a one-way door policy for Wellington bars would limit choice for patrons and make it harder to cater for specific events.
OUT AND ABOUT: JJ Murphy's bar manager Blair MacTaggart says a one-way door policy for Wellington bars would limit choice for patrons and make it harder to cater for specific events.

Concern about Wellington's drinking culture could lead to the introduction of a one-way-door system for bars, as councils around the country start creating alcohol policies.

New survey results from Wellington City Council show nearly 90 per cent of residents think excessive drinking negatively affects individuals and families in Wellington, and more than half support the idea of a one-way-door policy, by which, after a set time, no new patrons are allowed to enter bars.

The survey is part of the council's work to create an alcohol policy for the capital after government reform allowed councils to set rules about the number, location and conditions for places that sell alcohol.

Other cities in New Zealand are also developing policies. Auckland Council is considering a one-way door system, and Christchurch City Council is planning to start creating a policy.

The survey of 1000 Wellington residents found there was a high level of concern about drinking in the city and 77 per cent said there were high levels of drunkenness on the streets at weekends.

People identified individuals and family as having the most responsibility in curbing alcohol-related harm, but restrictions on licensed premises were also highlighted as important.

Time restrictions were supported by 67 per cent of people and 52 per cent agreed with introducing a one-way door policy.

Councillor Stephanie Cook, the social portfolio leader, said a one- way door policy was definitely among ideas the council would consider.

A set closing time was impractical, as too many people would spill on to the streets at one time, but a one-way door could help stagger closings, she said.

"I'm happy to investigate anything that makes Courtenay Place a place I want to go to."

But Wellington Restaurant Association president Mike Egan was doubtful a one-way door or time restrictions would work.

They were effective in smaller centres, but would be more difficult in places such as Wellington. "It doesn't really go with the big city feel . . . In a grown-up city, it would be quite problematic."

Any alcohol policy needed to focus on changing people's attitudes to alcohol over time, similar to the way drink-driving attitudes had changed through better education and awareness, he said.

"It just takes a long time to slowly change people's ideas, and it will happen."

Cook said the survey would be used to develop an alcohol strategy for the city, which would guide the development of the local alcohol policy.

The strategy also allowed the council to look at areas beyond the scope of the local alcohol policy.

"To a certain extent we all have to individually look at the situation and go, well, what are we as a society doing?"

Under the reform bill, which passed in December, councils can develop local alcohol policies which help determine where and how licensed premises operate. These could come into force early next year. Policies cannot be publicly notified until after December 18.

Councils that do not develop policies will instead become subject to the default position set by the reform bill.

Auckland Council has also started work on a policy and is considering including a one-way door system. Councillor George Wood said there was a "huge programme of work" to create a policy for Auckland.

"But we have already done a lot of work to prepare for this and are committed to getting the new rules in place in a timely manner."

Christchurch's council is due to meet on Thursday to develop a timeline for development of its policy. Councillors are expected to decide whether they are happy to start the process even though it cannot be finished until after October's local body election.

"It is not usual process for a council to develop a policy and not complete the process, but we have to choose to start or do nothing until 2014," planning committee chairwoman Sue Wells said.


Wellington's nightlife would suffer if a one-way door policy was introduced, bar patrons say.

Rachel Weeks, Rimon Paku and Andrew Litras were enjoying a beer in the sun at Cuba St's JJ Murphy & Co bar during the week, and all agreed that limiting where you could go at night would be a bad plan for the capital.

Weeks, 26, a student, said the city would end up with crowds of people loitering after they were unable to get into bars.

"It's going to keep a lot of people out on the common areas."

A large part of Wellington's night scene was based on bar hopping, with people heading to different places at different times, depending on when they "get going", with many places having a reputation for being best about 2am.

Paku, a 33-year-old researcher, said the ability to move between places easily was part of the city's night-time appeal. "Courtenay Place is awesome like that."

Raising the drinking age would be a better way to address the drinking culture, he said.

Litras, 23, a student, agreed, saying being able to move between bars was "freedom of choice".

JJ Murphy & Co's bar manager Blair MacTaggart was also opposed to the idea, saying it would limit choice for patrons as well as making it harder to cater for specific events such as sports events, where many people would wait until later in the night to head out so they could watch overseas games on big screens.

"That's pushing people so you must be here by that time."

A one-way door policy would also make life difficult for bar owners, who were already battling increasing alcohol prices, he said.


  • 84 per cent of residents have experienced at least one negative impact of excessive drinking at some point, 77 per cent have seen someone passed out or visibly drunk, 59 per cent have seen someone urinate in public, and 44 per cent have witnessed a fight involving one or more drunk people.
  • 77 per cent believe there are high rates of drunkenness on Wellington streets in the weekend.
  • 67 per cent think there should be time restrictions for licensed premises.
  • 52 per cent think bars and pubs should have one-way door restrictions.
  • 63 per cent drink alcohol at least once a week, and 40 per cent do so a few times per week.
  • 53 per cent said they would preload before going to licensed premises - 10 per cent frequently.
  • 62 per cent said drinking alcohol helped them relax, and 54 per cent said it enhanced ther experience when eating out.
  • 6 per cent said they drank to get drunk.
  • 21 per cent said they felt somewhat or very unsafe in the city centre after dark.

The survey of 1000 people was carried out using Colmar Brunton's online panel. All findings are statistically significant at the 95 per cent confidence level. SOURCE: Wellington City Council.

Contact Katie Chapman
Wellington reporter
Twitter: @katiechapman28

The Dominion Post