Closing time debate hots up

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 07:04 12/12/2013
 Liz McElhinney
Emma Allen

Not keen: Liz McElhinney, the publican at Paddy Barry's Irish Pub in Blenheim, does not support a proposal to introduce 1am closing time for bars in Blenheim

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Cutting the opening hours of bars in Marlborough would unfairly punish responsible drinkers for the actions of boozed-up troublemakers, says a Blenheim bar owner.

Paddy Barry's Irish Pub owner Liz McElhinney said a move to stop bars serving drinks at 1am would effectively limit people's freedom of choice.

Mrs McElhinney is an executive committee member of Hospitality New Zealand and said the Marlborough branch would oppose any such motion.

"You're talking about people's choice," she said. "There are responsible people out there who want to go out and socialise, and they should be allowed to do that when they want to."

Young people, aged between 18 and 25, tended to binge drink and needed to act more responsibly, Mrs McElhinney said.

She believed it was better for people to drink in a controlled environment with strict laws rather than turning to private venues that were not monitored.

"They'll just shift somewhere else to drink," she said. "Better off in licensed premises than to be out at uncontrolled parties."

At the moment, bars are legally required to stop serving alcohol at 3am and to close within half-an-hour after last drinks.

Police needed to have a discussion with bar owners about how to curb alcohol-related problems without reducing licence hours, Mrs McElhinney said.

"Once we lose that 3am close, it will be gone forever," she said.

She believed tactics such as a blanket ban should be put into place. If one person continuously causes trouble, they should not be allowed entry into any pub in Marlborough, she said.

"The responsibility should go back on the people who cause the trouble," she said.

"We have a responsible crowd that comes into our pub and it's not fair on them."

Scotch Wine Bar co-owner Tim Thomas said he could see why police were trying to make changes to the liquor licences.

An earlier closing time would impact on the Maxwell Rd bar in busier times, such as festivals and events, but things were usually winding down by 1am, he said.

Deciding whether or not to reduce opening hours was tricky, he said. "As a business owner, it would definitely implicate us, but not as much as other bars ... morally, what's the right thing to do going forward. They're making the changes for a reason."

Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Jeanette Swift said Marlborough bar owners had yet to meet to discuss the implications of the proposed changes in opening hours but she believed the consensus would be to keep the existing licence.

About 12 bars in Marlborough have licences to open until 3am

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- The Marlborough Express

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