Dry festivals loom in wake of fees hikes

A 750 per cent rise in the cost of a special liquor licence means a beer or wine may no longer available at some festivals.

It now costs $575 - up from $67.50 in Tasman district, and from $64.40 in Nelson city.

Already the Classic Boat Show has baulked at the cost and withdrew its licence application for the event in February this year.

Moutere Inn owners, who held licences for five festivals this summer, say they will only go to one next summer.

Over summer they were at the Nelson A&P Show, Nelson Lakes, the Tapawera Christmas Fair, Dovedale Affair and the Sarau Festival. However, co-owner Andrew Cole said at the new price only the Sarau Festival was viable. It got that licence on behalf of the Moutere Hills Community Centre so the cost was split between a number of stalls.

The charge has come into effect under the new Sale and Supply of Alcohol regulations.

The Tasman District Council website says the fees are standard across the country and it is not able to change them "at present".

However, the Ministry of Justice website says there is flexibility for councils to adjust the fees. Both Tasman district and Nelson city charge $63.40 for a small event, $207 for medium events and $575 for a large event of more than 400 people.

Cole said the $575 fee might be appropriate for major events in Auckland or Wellington but seemed over the top for the events they went to. He suggested a $150 fee would be fairer.

"For events like the Nelson Lakes festival at St Arnaud we're not expecting to make a lot of money, it's about being part of the community and supporting the festival."

Mussel Inn co-owner Jane Dixon said they went to between two to six events a year.

"Those sorts of events are not about selling large volumes, it's about getting exposure and making the event a good day out. Especially for us coming over the hill with travel and sometimes accommodation costs, it's not a huge money-making event. A $575 fee sounds ridiculous."

But council environmental health co-ordinator Graham Caradus is not swayed.

"I look at an event like the A&P show and think, how much difference does it make if you can have a beer? It's not the primary reason for going to the show. If you could not get a beer would you not go?"

Caradus said it was a question of whether ratepayers should be funding the process of issuing a special licence.

The review of liquor licensing had shown for TDC the processing cost was met 50:50 by the applicant and ratepayers. That was based on a TDC staff chargeout rate of about $130 an hour, he said.

The previous $67.50 fee for a special licence had covered events ranging from a birthday party, to a sports group annual function to the Brightwater Wine and Food Festival.

For an event such as the sports group function, the licensing inspector would need to make a number of checks, including interviewing the applicant, finding out who would be responsible for managing it and ensuring they met host responsibilities. At large events staff would also undertake monitoring.

The new regime had a higher level of obligation and that had increased the cost of processing to the council, Caradus said.

If the applicant did not meet the full cost, ratepayers would have to.

"It's really a matter of who pays and my view is the applicant should be paying the cost."

Cole said there had been no problems at any of the events they had been at, and Moutere Inn co-owner David Watson questioned what was involved in processing the applications.

"If somebody is charged at $150 an hour and takes three hours to do it, it's a nonsense."

He said intoxication was an issue in society. "Alcohol is not going to go away, we need to work on how people consume, and behaviour." Classic Boats Festival organiser Pete Rainey, who withdrew its special licence application, said: "I can understand the rationale behind it. Unfortunately I think it's a bit of blunt instrument. With my event the consumption of alcohol is very minor to what the event is about but it's nice to have a beer or wine with lunch."

Rainey, a city councillor, expected with Nelson's population it would still be worthwhile to get a special licence, but it was more of an issue for country events, less likely to get the numbers.

So far the city council has granted special licences in the $575 category, for the Giants basketball season and Film Society events at the Suter.