Christchurch alcohol policy's benefits limited

CAROLINE KING AND ANNA TURNER
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2013

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A policy limiting bars' opening hours would reduce the amount of alcohol Christchurch people drink by as little as 1 per cent, according to a city council report.

The draft Local Alcohol Policy would also cost the region more to implement than it would save in alcohol-related healthcare and police services. It could also deter bars and licensed premises from rebuilding in the central city.

Those are among the findings of a report commissioned by the Christchurch City Council that compares the costs and benefits of the draft policy.

The district-wide policy proposes a one-way door rule from 1am in the central city and a blanket 1am closing for suburban licensed premises in a bid to help curb the city's alcohol-related issues.

The hearing of submissions on the policy begins today and is expected to last four days.

The report concluded the economic costs of the policy would outweigh the economic benefits.

Bar owners welcomed the finding, saying it vindicates their concerns about the policy.

Many have said the policy is flawed and unfairly blames bars for alcohol-related harm.

Despite the report's findings, medical experts said the policy was necessary to curb the city's heavy drinking culture.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey dismissed the report, saying it did not appear to be "logical or scientific".

"The study only looks at credit-card transactions, not cash transactions or supermarket sales," he said.

"It is a flawed report in the way it has been undertaken and so it has produced flawed results."

Humphrey did not accept the policy would only reduce alcohol consumption by 1 per cent.

"If this was a real result, wouldn't bars be clapping their hands and saying, ‘great, we're only going to lose 1 per cent of business'? It's a very illogical finding."

National Addiction Centre professor Doug Sellman said he "congratulated" the council on "being honest" in their analysis.

"We see local alcohol plans as having fairly minimal impact on the healthy drinking culture."

However, Sellman said the proposed policy was "still a step in the right direction".

"It may only be a 1 per cent reduction in heavy drinking, but we've got to reduce heavy drinking in Christchurch. Any reduction . . . is a good thing."

The greatest benefits identified in the report, carried out by research and forecasting company Covec, were the reductions in healthcare and police costs.

It estimated the policy could reduce health costs by $1.3 million a year. Alcohol costs the regional healthcare system about $63m a year.

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The analysis found the policy could have "a number of unintended consequences", including deterring licensed premises from basing themselves in the central city.

It also believed the policy failed to target problem drinkers and address the key drivers of alcohol-related harm: binge drinking and pre-loading.

The report recommended the council "re-examine its options" before making a decision on the policy.

Hospitality New Zealand Canterbury branch executive member Clive Weston said the report vindicated the industry's position. It showed the policy was not addressing the problems, but simply "shifting the blame" on to licensed premises.

Winnie Bagoes owner Geoff Cavell said the "findings speak for themselves". He felt emphasis should be on education to break New Zealand's drinking culture, rather than further restrictions on licensed premises.

Danny Valentine, the managing director of Tight5 Hospitality, which oversees Cargo Bar, said the council needed to "go back to the drawing board".

- The Press

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