Discretion call over liquor fees

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 12:00 12/04/2014

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A raft of groups have been caught up in the toughened liquor law and its increased licensing fees, including the unimpressed Nelson National Party.

A Golden Bay bowling club with 10 active members faces a $851 bill, and the Nelson Film Society, surprised at an increase from $60 to $575, says serving a wine or beer before its weekly screening will be uneconomic.

Even the Tasman District Council's social club will have to decide whether to pay the $575 fee, as will the Nelson National Party for its monthly events.

"There are a number of unintended consequences," said Tasman District Council environmental health coordinator Graham Caradus of the new regulations.

A Nelson Mail article on Wednesday highlighted the impact of the big fee rises under the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Regulations, with the cost of a special licence making it unviable to offer a beer or wine at some festivals.

The Classic Boat Show withdrew its application for its February event because of the expense and the Moutere Inn owners said the new price meant it would only be viable to be at the Sarau Festival and not four other events it was at last summer.

Now Nelson MP Nick Smith says councils should show discretion in their fee charges.

"Councils need to be pragmatic for community events that bring a whole lot of community benefits," he said.

The first complaint he received came from his own party.

"The Nelson National Party has a licence for events held once a month in our party rooms and they got a nasty fright about the cost," Smith said.

He said he was surprised by the Nelson Mail report and the big hike in fees.

"I understand councils have discretion around the level of fees and it will be a real disappointment if these high charges result in undermining successful community events."

These were one-off community events where the actual risk of alcohol problems was very low, he said.

The higher risk was around nightclubs and stores selling alcohol every day where there needed to be measures to ensure alcohol was sold responsibly.

"I struggle to see how the law requires a whole lot more work for a community event," said Smith.

"My understanding is the liquor legislation enables councils to cost recover." Councils are given discretion for the fees set, although it needs to be responsible and could be legally challenged, he added.

The cost meant the State Cinema-hosted films at the Suter theatre would no longer be able to sell wine or beer at the various film festivals, said promotions manager Louise Egan. "We would never be able to recover the cost."

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It wasn't a big profit drop but the public would definitely miss it, she said.

It also assisted 39 groups who ran fundraiser events last year and 26 of those had provided alcohol at their functions.

"They would now have to pay $207 instead of the $64 special licence fee they previously paid which is basically their profit," she said.

Of the new regime she said: "It does not work for Nelson, it does not work for the Suter and it affects a lot of people."

She suggested a more graduated scale of fees recognising community groups would be fairer.

Nelson Film Society secretary Chris Watson said for the past 12 years it had sold a glass of wine or beer to members before the screening of a weekly film, and they usually bought a single drink.

The 800 per cent licence fee rise from $64.40 to $575 had been unexpected and unheralded, he said.

The society had bought in stock for this year's season late last year, and the increased fee make it uneconomic, he said.

"We hoped that as a registered charity, where the sale of alcohol is not a major part of our activity, that the council's charge could be waived or at least maintained at the customary level, but that turned out to be a futile aspiration," he said.

Caradus said in such instances a full club licence for $850 might work out cheaper over three years.

In a Nelson Mail online poll 52.9 per cent, or 203 out of 389 votes, said a lack of beer and wine staffs at Nelson festivals and events would make them less likely to attend.

- The Nelson Mail

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