Late bar closing set to offset shorter shop hours

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013

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Supermarkets across the capital will have to lock up their beer and wine from 9pm if a proposal from the Wellington City Council goes ahead.

But while councillors have proposed to limit hours for off-licences, they also expanded the area in which on-licences will be able to stay open until 5am.

They voted 8-7 yesterday in favour of limiting the hours liquor stores and supermarkets can sell alcohol to between 7am and 9pm.

The proposal will now be included in the council's draft local alcohol policy, which will go out for public consultation next month.

If the proposal makes it into the final policy, it would take effect from March next year.

The councillors' decision was made despite strong opposition from supermarkets. Progressive Enterprises' senior lawyer, Phillipa Clifford, told councillors that Countdown was a major retail investors in Wellington.

"It is therefore of real concern to us that we have found ourselves . . . under sustained attack of being primarily responsible for alcohol-related harm in the city."

There was no evidence to link buying alcohol at supermarkets and alcohol-related harm, she said.

The Retailers Association later accused councillors of having "decided to inconvenience the majority of Wellington shoppers to try and solve a consumption problem involving a minority".

But councillors argued they had to weigh up personal convenience against public safety. Iona Pannett said limiting off-licence sales while allowing more places to stay open till 5am was "a good balance".

Limiting sales to 9pm would still give people access to alcohol - they would just have to be more organised, she said.

The councillors opted to place the 9pm closing throughout the city, rather than limiting it to the central city and southern areas.

They argued that pre-loading was just as big a problem in all suburbs, not just the central areas.

But not all councillors supported shutting off alcohol supply at 9pm, saying it would cause unnecessary logistical problems for supermarkets.

"It seems to me to make sense that you don't say to people you can only trade part of your stock for part of the time," Andy Foster said.

Justin Lester said young people were buying alcohol at supermarkets because it was cheaper, and if the supermarkets shut they'd just buy it earlier.

"Pre-loading . . . is around an economic rationale."

The draft policy had originally included different on-licence hours within two "entertainment precincts", in Courtenay Place and Cuba St, which could trade from 7am to 3am, or 5am for "best practice" premises. Other inner-city bars would be restricted to 7am-2am, or 3am for best practice ones.

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John Morrison suggested ditching the precincts and having 5am closing for all the central city. "We're in real danger of false boundaries that are going to restrict the development of the city," he said.

That proposal lost by 9 votes to 6. Instead, councillors voted for one wider "entertainment precinct", taking in areas between Courtenay Place and Cuba St.

The draft policy is being adopted as a result of law changes taking effect on December 18. From then, the default position for opening hours throughout the country will be 7am to 11pm for off-licences, and 8am to 4am for on-licences.

But councils can introduce local alcohol policies setting variations on those hours.

- The Dominion Post

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