Small communities trying to restrict the sale of alcohol are fighting a losing battle against supermarkets which want to extend their opening hours.
The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act came into effect in December and allows city and district councils to develop their own Local Alcohol Policy (LAP) that sets localised restrictions on alcohol sales.
But councils with LAPs have seen them appealed at the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (ARLA) for a variety of reasons by a number of sources.
A major point of contention has been around opening hours.
The supermarkets and alcohol industry want opening times kept at the default of 7am to 11pm but many councils want more restrictive hours.
Hauraki District Council proposed a 9am to 9pm restriction because all of the supermarkets in the region close at 9pm.
Progressive Enterprises, the owner of Countdown, appealed this, saying it wanted the option of an 11pm closing time.
Hauraki mayor John Tregidga and his small council (17,811 residents) now face a legal battle with Progressive, and the others who have appealed their LAP.
"It can be costly and for our small community and the initial indications I've got is $20,000 to appeal it," he said. "I'm not keen to do that."
Tregidga said the appeal went against everything the act was designed for. "For me the act was very clear; local policies for local communities. After the appeal, if the default hours end up being 11pm then I would suggest that the Act is not achieving what it was intended to do."
Massey University research released this month found the later people bought alcohol the more likely they were to be binge drinkers or alcoholics, Tregidga said.
"There is a substantial amount of research that availability of alcohol for taking home is related to harm and the later the closing the increase in harm.
"Their [Progressive] reason [for appeal] is that we haven't proven that their supermarket is causing harm. Well, sorry, but the research is quite clear."
In Tasman, Foodstuffs, which owns New World and Pak 'n Save, joined Progressive in appealing a 10pm closing time proposed by the Tasman District Council. This was despite both the New World and Countdown in Motueka closing at 9pm.
Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said the council's LAP was robust and what the community wanted, a factor missed by the big corporates.
"I think they have completely missed the point of communities doing what communities feel are best for them. It does seem to be the big organisations that are taking a national approach, and anyone who does different to what they think should be done nationally, they are appealing."
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) president Lawrence Yule said six councils had received appeals to their LAPs but there would be more in the future. It was disappointing but not unexpected, he said.
"They [supermarkets] have big commercial interests at play.
"They were the most active lobbyists when the law went through parliament and now they are turning their sights on these local policies and in many cases they are picking quite big fights with small local authorities."
LGNZ was looking at what they could do to help the smaller councils, Yule said.
"I don't think we can assist legally, but when you have a small local authority against a large corporate like Progressive or some of the alcohol industry players, that is a big call."
LGNZ met with 160 local council representatives on Thursday and Friday and the issue was discussed. No decisions were made but it was put to LGNZ that national support was needed to assist the councils and this would now be looked into, Yule said.
Speaking for the supermarkets, Retailers Association government and advisory group manager Louise Evans McDonald said businesses were also part of the community and deserved to have their voices heard. Some of the restrictions around trading hours put in place by councils were unnecessary and should stay at the default 7am to 11pm, she said.
"Under the discretionary conditions available within the Act, a council may impose a more restrictive time than the default national hours on a licence by licence basis. There is not the need for a local alcohol policy to make such restrictions."
Some councils were not being completely transparent with their decision-making process and how they came to making their decision, which left retailers with few options but to appeal, she said.
"They [councils] can't really complain when submitters are left with little or no alternative but to seek more solid, transparent, evidence-based decisions through the appeal process."
Foodstuffs declined a request for an interview but said in a statement it had appealed some Local Alcohol Policies, however due to the ongoing nature of this process, was unable to comment further.
Progressive Enterprises also provided a statement saying Countdown had stores in 160 communities throughout New Zealand and was active in helping councils with their decision making process:
"As we do with all LAPs around the country, we assess each individually and review the council's decision. We have lodged appeals where we've felt it's appropriate, but also because at this point this is new law and there is going to be a period of uncertainty."
- Sunday Star Times
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