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Restricting entry to Wellington's central city bars after 1am could be part of the "single biggest crime prevention opportunity" the city has seen in years, police say.
Trouble-seekers were attracted to central city bars like "moths to a flame", and reducing their hours would instantly reduce alcohol-related harm, Wellington area commander Inspector Chris Scahill told city councillors yesterday.
But the hospitality industry disagreed, saying 75 per cent of alcohol was sold off-premise and that pre-loading before arriving in town was the problem.
Industry representatives told councillors that reducing hours would increase harm, pushing mobs of people out on to the streets and damaging the capital's reputation as a vibrant city.
In a packed Wellington City Council committee room yesterday, representatives from police, the industry and health services argued their points on a new local alcohol policy.
It proposes that three entertainment precincts with trading hours of 7am-5am be created on Courtenay Place, Cuba St and the waterfront.
Other inner-city bars outside those precincts would be restricted to hours of 7am-2am.
But police want this pushed further, with a 3am closure time across the city and a 1am "one-way door" policy, meaning nobody would be allowed in after that time.
Scahill said police understood the importance of a vibrant city but the harm was "exponential" after 3am.
Hospitality Association Wellington branch president Jeremy Smith said early closure would just exacerbate problems. Young people would drink in parks and other public areas instead.
His organisation wanted a 5am closing time in the entertainment precinct, with 3am elsewhere and 1am in the suburbs.
Stephen Palmer, medical officer of health at Regional Public Health, said pulling closing time back to 3am would have an "immediate effect" on emergency admissions.
Over the past two decades, alcohol laws had become far too relaxed, and the social cost was mounting.
"The system is broken."
A council committee will debate the draft policy next week.
- The Dominion Post