Small clubs say new laws on liquor hitting hard

KAY BLUNDELL
Last updated 05:00 01/03/2014
Blair Campbell
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

FINAL CHEERS: Waikanae Bridge Club manager Blair Campbell says new liquor laws may force the club to serve lemon, lime and bitters instead of wine.

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Struggling RSAs and small bridge clubs are finding new liquor laws "crippling", with some saying they will be forced to serve soft drinks instead of wine.

Liquor law changes introduced in December include removal of ratepayer subsidies on liquor licensing and the introduction of a scaled approach to the cost of a licence, and the changes are hitting small clubs in the pocket.

Waikanae Bridge Club used to pay about $65 a year for a special licence to provide alcohol to members on Tuesday and Friday nights, Christmas Day and three events a year. Now they have to fork out about $680 a year. An annual application or renewal for a manager's certificate had risen from about $100 to $385.

Waikanae Bridge Club manager Blair Campbell said the changes for their club, with 150 members aged 45 to 90, were ludicrous.

"Bridge is a social thing . . . members like a glass of wine at the end of the night. We have no drunkenness or excessive alcohol consumption.

"An alternative is for members to bring their own - put a bottle of wine in the fridge with their name on it," Mr Campbell said.

The club always offered visiting players competing in tournaments a complimentary glass of wine.

"That will go by the board. They will now get a glass of ginger beer or lemon, lime and bitters," he said.

Clubs now had to provide details to local authorities, including dates and times of events and seating plans for those consuming alcohol.

Paraparaumu RSA manager Don Trevethick said the new fee structure was "extreme".

The club relied on outside groups using their premises for sports clubs' events, karaoke, housie and quiz nights, which used to cost them $64 a night for a special licence but now cost $203.

"We are trying to keep our head above water. We cannot afford to not have these events . . . our normal turnover is not enough to keep the club going. The large increases are a bit crippling," he said.

Hutt Bridge Club president Evan Voyce said the new fees penalised small clubs, making it much harder to provide a complete service.

"Bridge is competitive but there is also a strong social element. Most of our members are over 65, retired, quite modest in their consumption of alcohol. We like to offer other clubs hospitality during tournaments, a glass of wine free or at a modest charge," he said.

Ministry of Justice civil and constitutional unit general manager David King said the reforms aimed to improve New Zealand's drinking culture and reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking. "The new system fairly reflects the cost of alcohol licensing . . . [it] aims to ensure licensing costs are met by the alcohol industry rather than ratepayers, who currently subsidise about 50 per cent, $5.4 million a year, of the system."

The new fees also helped councils carry out expanded functions, such as a more thorough licence application process and better monitoring. Councils can reduce fees if the operator is proven to have shown "exemplary conduct".

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- The Dominion Post

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