Liquor licence fee rise might spell closures

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:00 18/12/2013

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A new law that does away with ratepayer subsidies for liquor licences could be a death-knell for many country taverns in Manawatu, Hospitality New Zealand says.

Most of the changes to the Sale of Liquor Act passed last December come into effect today, including removal of ratepayer subsidies on liquor licences and the introduction of a scaled approach to the cost of a licence, with outlets categorised as high-risk required to pay more.

Any pub opening past 3am in Palmerston North will be considered high risk, and the ones that have also failed a controlled purchase operation in the past 12 months will be considered very high risk and have licence renewal fees raised accordingly.

Hospitality New Zealand central region manager Chris Hince said the cost of holding a licence would be too high for many and could create a stark change in Manawatu's hospitality industry.

Under the old system, averaged over 10 years, licensees paid $276 per year. Under the new system the costs will be between $268 and $1670 per year, depending on risk.

"We are going to see some people dropping their liquor licences, it's that simple," Mr Hince said.

"There are a number of country hotels and pubs in the region struggling as it is, and the rise in the cost of a licence will be substantial enough for some of them to say it's not worth carrying on with it.

"There's licensed cafes in the region that only sell a couple of glasses of chardonnay a month and they'll be definitely contemplating whether it's worth carrying on with it."

Alcohol abuse was a problem but the new laws were not doing enough to target off-licences, which were the root of the problem, he said. "Anything that causes pubs to close or increases prices will drive people to drink in more dangerous and unsupervised situations.

"Country pubs, in particular, are not a hotbed of alcohol abuse, so what was the problem, why are they being struck with increases?"

Minister of Justice Judith Collins said the new laws struck a sensible balance between curbing the harm alcohol abuse could cause and making sure regulations did not penalise responsible drinkers.

Changes to the licensing fee system would fairly reflect the costs of it, and the introduction of categories based on risk was a necessary move. "Fees will increase for most businesses, but regardless, the fees are reasonable - 99 per cent of licensees will pay an average of between $5.15 and $24.15 a week," she said.

Councils had the power to set their own fee levels if the national default fees did not reflect their costs. Other aspects of the law coming into effect today include a four-step intoxication gauge, with patrons failing two of the steps not allowed to be in bars.

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"I have spilled drinks on myself when I've been stone cold sober and under this I would automatically fail one of the steps," Mr Hince said.

"It's applying a black and white approach, and while that's good in a lot of cases, intoxication naturally has a lot of grey areas."

An inability to advertise a promotion offering free alcohol as a prize would also have a significant effect on communities, and Mr Hince expected many would be caught out by the lack of publicity around that particular change.

- The Manawatu Standard

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