Bars and supermarkets are praising common sense, but police and doctors are seething at Wellington City Council for backing down on its controversial liquor policy.
Officers had proposed stopping the sale of alcohol at off-licences after 9pm, but had a change of heart yesterday after reviewing almost 1900 submissions on the council's draft local alcohol policy and alcohol management strategies.
They are now proposing that off-licences, such as liquor stores and supermarkets, be allowed to sell alcohol between 7am and 11pm.
The 9pm restriction was floated as a way of addressing "pre- loading", when people get drunk on cheaper alcohol from off- licences before heading to bars and nightclubs.
Instead of forcing the reduced hours on retailers, council staff are now suggesting a voluntary six-month trial of the 9pm cutoff in the central city and southern suburbs on Friday and Saturday nights.
But Thorndon New World owner Brian Drake said his store would not take part.
"Once you get to that, you'll never turn it back," he said. "What happens if customers . . . stroll up with liquor in their cart at 9.01pm and we say, 'Sorry, you can't buy it'. The abuse we would get is not going to be very pleasant."
Supermarkets were capable of managing pre-loaders without the council getting involved, and he was pleased "common sense" had prevailed.
"If there's people who come in to shop for alcohol at any stage of the evening, who we think are buying excessively or are already intoxicated, then we refuse sale to those people."
However, Paul Quigley, emergency medicine specialist for Capital & Coast District Health Board, said off-licences were the driving force behind the "saturation" of communities by alcohol.
The council had proven itself to be "all talk and no action" when it came to reducing alcohol harm, he said. "The original concept of 9pm was a bold move and would have made a considerable difference to supply in the dangerous hours of consumption. People who buy alcohol after 9pm at night are doing it for one reason, and that's to get intoxicated."
The voluntary accord was "pretty much nonsense" and he doubted any off-licences would take part, he said.
Wellington police prevention manager Inspector Terry van Dillen said the council's policy did not do enough to limit the supply of alcohol, which was the most effective way to reduce alcohol- related harm.
"We need to move past an old- fashioned reactive mindset to focus on prevention."
Police and the Medical Officer of Health would probably object to the council's policy when it was considered by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, he said.
Council officers have also poured cold water on the idea of establishing an "entertainment precinct" in Courtenay Place and Cuba St, with later opening hours than the rest of the city.
Councillor Stephanie Cook, who looks after the social portfolio, said submissions from bars, venues and police suggested a precinct would concentrate trouble.
Officers have also recommended investigating a bylaw to make public intoxication an offence.
Jeremy Smith, Wellington branch president of Hospitality New Zealand, said he was pleased to see the council was pursuing the initiative. "Because we believe that's the only way you're going to change the culture, by making people personally accountable."
The proposed changes will be debated by councillors at a strategy and policy committee meeting next week.
THE LATEST PROPOSALS
Maximum trading hours for on- licence premises (bars, clubs, and restaurants) will be 7am to 5am in the central city and 7am to 1am in suburban areas.
A higher threshold for gaining a licence for trading beyond 3am will be set, along with compulsory conditions for late-night trading.
Maximum trading hours for off- licence premises (liquor stores and supermarkets) in suburban areas will be 7am to 11pm.
Initiatives that supported the entertainment precinct have been recast as initiatives for managing the CBD. They include better transport options, urban design and lighting improvements, better targeted CCTV, and chill-out zones.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Councillors will debate the officers' recommendations at a committee meeting on Thursday and make changes if they wish. If approved, the policy will be sent to the full council for final approval.
The council will publicly notify its intention to adopt the final policy on January 21. People who submitted on the draft policy will then have a month to lodge an appeal with the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority.
WHY CHANGE THE LAW?
Changes to the law due to take effect on December 18 will see the default position for opening hours throughout the country become 7am to 11pm for off-licences and 8am to 4am for on-licences.
There are 31 premises (excluding hotels) currently trading beyond 4am in Wellington that will be affected.
Councils can introduce their own policies varying those hours but they only set the maximum. Businesses are still subject to the unique conditions of their liquor licences.
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade- Brown: "People who load up on 10 vodka shots before hitting town, or who drain six beers in the back of a van parked on a side street, are spoiling the downtown experience and putting themselves at risk."
CCDHB alcohol and drug specialist Paul Quigley: "It's nonsense, I'd almost use the word pathetic, that they have bowed to the pressure of the alcohol industry and basically made no change to off-licence trading."
Wellington police prevention manager Inspector Terry van Dillen: "Moderation of the supply of alcohol is the single-biggest crime prevention opportunity that the council's local alcohol plan, as proposed, doesn't take advantage of."
Thorndon New World owner Brian Drake: "Supermarket sales after 9pm are to mature members of the Wellington community. They're not pre-loaders."
Regional Wines & Spirits general manger Alistair Morris: "The intentions might have been admirable, but I don't think it would have made a lot of difference."
Hashigo Zake bar owner Dominic Kelly: "I think the entertainment precinct was just a big mistake in terms of Wellington's development, both economically and culturally."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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