Graduation looks outside Square

Massey University has pulled its November graduation cocktail party from The Square to avoid a technical breach of the liquor ban area.

Palmerston North City Council is proposing changes to its Liquor Control Bylaw to accommodate graduation events where free drinks are served to invited guests.

But the change cannot come soon enough to exempt the November 30 cocktail party.

Massey spokesman James Gardiner said the university was looking for an alternative venue since concerns had been raised about the legality of serving free alcohol after the two end-of-year graduation ceremonies.

"We don't want to break the bylaw. We are not going to risk it. We will have to consider what our options are," Mr Gardiner said.

The decision is one council staff and some councillors have been anxious to avoid.

"We don't want Massey moving out of town for hosting graduation," said Cr Adrian Broad.

"Graduation is something special in the heart of the city. We want The Square to be a vibrant heart, and it's an opportunity for our biggest, most important institution to be part of it."

Council policy analyst Peter Ridge, who has drafted changes to the bylaw to grant exemptions for Massey graduation events in May and November, said the changes aligned with council hopes to bring more people into The Square and build a good relationship with Massey.

He said the events were "low risk", unlikely to lead to alcohol-related harm, public nuisance or offensive behaviour.

The problem with the celebrations was with liquor being supplied free to guests.

When alcohol was sold, the situation was covered by application for and granting of a special liquor licence.

In some other events held in The Square where drinks were served, the alcohol was purchased by event organisers and covered by the caterer's off-licence.

Massey used its own caterer, so there was no purchasing involved, and no licence, and therefore they were in breach.

Not all city councillors are convinced the bylaw should be changed for Massey's benefit.

Cr Chris Teo-Sherrell said it was "cronyism".

"We are making an exception for our friends.

"It sends the wrong message to vast parts of our community."

Exemptions should only be considered based on measuring up to strict criteria, he said, so any organisation could apply.

Part of the problem was of Massey's own making, and could be overcome if it used different caterers, he said.

Mr Gardiner said the November graduation celebrations had been held in a marquee in The Square for the first time last year, after finding the usual venue of the Convention Centre had been booked by another user.

He could not say what Massey would decide to do.

"The ball is in the council's court. It's their bylaw, and they need to work out how they want it to impact on the community."

Public submissions on the proposed amendments to the bylaw will open on Saturday and close on December 20.

Manawatu Standard