Wellington supermarkets and liquor stores could be forced to stop selling alcohol after 9pm in a bid to prevent young people binge-drinking.
The city council says the move would force pre-loaders to plan their drinking more carefully, and help stop people sneaking alcohol into the central city.
But the suggestion has prompted concern from supermarkets, with both major chains due to front up to councillors today.
The earlier closing hours for city off-licences are among options being considered by a Wellington City Council committee today.
Under law changes to take effect on December 18, the default position for opening hours throughout the country will be 7am to 11pm for off-licences and 8am to 4am for on-licences.
But councils can introduce their own local alcohol policies setting variations on those hours.
The council committee is finalising its draft policy today before sending it out for public feedback next month.
Councillors have been asked to pick one of three options for off-licence hours: the new law's default position; a city-wide 7am-9pm limit; or the 9pm closing for central city and southern area off-licences, with 11pm remaining for the rest of the city.
The earlier closing is aimed at reining in binge drinking, after a survey showed alcohol bought after 9pm was more likely to be for immediate consumption, a report to councillors said.
Council service development and improvement manager Jaime Dyhrberg said councillors had to weigh up the need for personal convenience against the desire to curb pre-loading. By limiting off-licence hours, drinkers would have to "pre-plan your pre-loading or go without", he said.
Stephanie Cook, the council's social portfolio leader, said she supported 9pm closure for the central city and southern zones, as those were the areas where pre-loading was most prevalent. "Aro Valley is obviously the pre-loading capital of Wellington."
People generally managed to adapt to changes in hours, she said. "They'll just buy two bottles [of wine] instead of one, or get an extra half-dozen beers or whatever their tipple is."
Supermarket representatives will be addressing the council before today's debate. Countdown spokeswoman Kate Porter said: "We do have some concerns around the impact some of the proposed changes may have for our customers."
Anil Patel, owner of Discount Liquor on Dixon St, suggested 10pm would be a better closing time. But he doubted closing earlier would change people's drinking habits, as they would buy alcohol earlier. "It's not going to make any difference."
The draft policy also includes on-licence hours, setting two entertainment precincts with trading hours of 7am to 3am, or 5am closing for "best practice" premises, in Courtenay Place and Cuba St. Other inner-city bars would be restricted to 7am-2am, or 3am for best practice bars.
No other city is considering hours beyond the 4am default.
Ms Cook said it was appropriate to be "the most liberal city" for on-licences, because "we actually value the night-time economy", and pre-loading was the biggest problem that needed to be addressed.
Each year about $33 million is spent in Wellington's hospitality sector between 3am and 7am.
Wellington area commander Inspector Chris Scahill said police supported a city-wide 9pm limit on off-licence sales as a way to curb binge-drinking, which easy availability helped to fuel. Police were also advocating a 3am closure for all bars.
Binge-drinking practices explained to councillors:
Pre-loading: Getting drunk on alcohol bought from off-licences before heading into more expensive bars and nightclubs.
Topping up: Going to an off-licence for extra alcohol when you run out while pre-loading.
Side-loading: Smuggling alcohol into bars and clubs, or hiding it outside to drink between visits to bars.
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