Red tape threatens community events

FRITZ KUCKUCK AND MARIA GRAU
Last updated 15:13 07/02/2014
Marchfest
VIRGINIA WOOLF/FAIRFAX NZ
BEER HEAVEN: As Nelson's Marchfest proves, not all events involving alcohol turn into drunken sprees.

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Waitangi weekend is Sevens Rugby weekend in Wellington. Media will be awash in images of the drunken costumed revellers, and certain Wellingtonians will leave town to avoid the whole melee.

In Nelson last weekend, though, the community turned out in their thousands for the annual Sarau Festival. Community groups and local businesses come to sell a wide range of food and local products.

Funds were raised for local charities, and it's a great day out interacting with the locals and tourists.

And why are we writing about this? Because some of those local business were local breweries.

They will have applied for a Special License to sell beer as their participation in this community event. Those who have participated in past years, though, will have found this year a bit different.

Last year new legislation went into effect to create a new District Licensing Committee (DLC) which has the sole responsibility for setting the requirements and pricing, and for issuing Special Licenses.

Surveys were conducted to get community input into the setting of new Licensing regulations, though Special Licenses were barely discussed. The Nelson and Tasman DLCs have, therefore adopted the default fees in the revised liquor act, and made other changes to the issuing of special licenses, presumably guided by the general principles of reducing harm to the community.

First, the cost will have gone up considerably - what was previously a $63 fee is now $575 for any event like this which attracts more than 400 people.

If the event doesn't apply for the license, each vendor would need to apply at least a month in advance and potentially pay the full fee. The pricing is "risk based" so that larger events receive larger fees. This could discourage small local businesses from participating in large events as the cost would be prohibitive.

And this is why we want to contrast the image of drunken Sevens fans with the image of families enjoying locally crafted beer and kai.

Both are events that attract more than 400 people, and yet they create markedly different atmospheres. Both will draw locals and tourists, but in our view one has far greater potential to create harm.

While local breweries and other alcohol vendors want to support community events, this fee structure might become cost prohibitive.

The Nelson DLC is made up primarily of current or former members of Nelson City Council. Our sense is that they want to be democratic and take community views as their primary decision driver.

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We fear, however, that asking the wrong questions of the community might give the wrong impression when it comes to deciding about Special Licenses. Community input would really vary depending upon whether people were visualising the Sevens or one of the food and drink-based festivals in our region.

We spent last Sunday in the Upper Moutere at the Sarau festival. An estimated 3000 - 4000 people, mostly families, came out to support the local blackcurrant themed community fundraiser.

Some 17 stalls including local wine, cider and beer makers were selling alcoholic drinks. Despite running until 9pm, the event was incident free.

It appears that people in this region enjoy having community and tourist events with local business participation, including local brewers, wine and cider makers, etc.

This seems at odds with a pricing strategy that discourages small local businesses from participating in any large event, regardless of the actual likelihood of incidents.

While it is unclear what exact considerations the committees will make on the type of event, some recommendations have been to limit license hours and the number of Special Licenses per year in a venue.

It would be a shame if great community events at Founders Park like Marchfest, Taste Nelson and Nelson Arts Festival were prevented due to an arbitrary limit designed to prevent Sevens type excesses.

The Tasman Special License application states that alcohol will not be allowed at events on school grounds where children are likely to be present. Did Tasman residents intend to prevent local breweries and wineries from showing support through participation in community fundraiser events?

We read online that Tauranga will be reviewing their Special Licensing policies and pricing after trying the defaults for a year.

If Nelson and Tasman plan to do the same, it really depends upon local citizens to express their support of these events, not just by turning up, but actually communicating directly to the DLC.

- Nelson

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