3am closing time ideal, say police

TESSA JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 08/01/2014

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Thirty five people were fined for breaching liquor laws and dozens of others warned on New Year's Eve alone, but police and Wellington City Council say the new rules are working well.

New liquor laws that came into effect on December 18 include a 4am closing time for bars, 11pm cutoff for supermarkets selling alcohol, and fines of between $250 and $2000 for breaches of the liquor ban.

The council has drafted a local alcohol policy which extends opening hours to 5am, but the policy has still to go through an approval process - and police are planning to appeal against it.

Inspector Terry van Dillen said the police view was that a 3am closing time for bars and a 9pm cutoff for off-licence liquor sales would be ideal.

"We believe 3am is a good figure - if people want to party, they can party from 9pm to 3am, they've just got to change their views from partying from midnight till 7am."

Mr van Dillen said the public had already adjusted well to 4am closing and the changes had meant less crime and fewer victims.

Figures for the whole holiday period were not available yet, but on New Year's Eve in Wellington city police issued 35 fines, 12 written warnings and 90 verbal warnings for breaches of the liquor ban.

"We did have a few more people hanging around in the city on New Year's Eve, but they soon filtered out and the city got cleaned up for the new day," he said.

The owner of bars Red Square and Ponderosa, Sarah Bolton, said they had still been fairly busy but she expected numbers to drop off slightly after the holiday season.

"It is affecting turnover, because we've got two hours less profit-making, and especially nightclubs like Red Square - it doesn't open till 10pm, generally doesn't start filling till 12am, so it only gives us four hours on a Friday and Saturday. We've lost four hours in a trading week."

Ms Bolton said the streets had been messier at closing time because people's trips home weren't staggered any more and she had noticed a backlog of people waiting for taxis and buses to get home.

"Suddenly there's a mass ejection, especially around Allen and Blair [streets], so there tends to be a few more fights."

Council community services manager Jenny Rains said it was a "watching brief" for the council but punters seemed to be aware of the changes and adapting well. "It's been quite orderly, no major issues. People understood the changes and knew they needed to think about getting home and they did."

Hospitality NZ regional manager Dylan Firth said though the transition had gone smoothly for most members it would still like to see closing time pushed to 5am.

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- The Dominion Post

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