Local booze battle gets welcome boost

The withdrawal by supermarket giants of a challenge against the Tasman District Council's local alcohol policy is a welcome move.

The major chains, Foodstuffs and Progressive, had appealed against a number of councils' local alcohol policies that allows them to set, among other things, tighter trading hours than the default settings in the 2012 alcohol reforms.

Those reforms were widely seen as a diluted attempt by Parliament to tackle New Zealand's damaging drinking culture, with proposals to raise the purchasing age and curb RTD sales failing to make the final legislation.

The local alcohol policies, at least, give communities the opportunity to help shape their own rules around the location of liquor outlets and the hours they can trade.

Tasman brought in its provisional policy last December, setting trading hours of 7am to 10pm for off-licences, a closing time that is an hour earlier than the default hours under the legislation.

The supermarkets appealed against this provision despite stores in Motueka and Richmond closing at 9pm.

They have taken similar action against policies in Hauraki, South Canterbury, and Waimakariri, leading to claims of corporate bullying by some local politicians.

The supermarket stance appears to have been based more on principle, and perhaps future-proofing their ability to stay open longer.

They have argued that the default hours in the legislation should apply nationally, and that councils have failed to produce any evidence for curtailing them.

But just as Tasman's policy was shaping up to be a test case before the new Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority this week, the supermarkets withdrew their appeal.

A representative refused to say why and it is not yet clear whether they will continue their opposition elsewhere in the country. Perhaps they accepted the difficulties in arguing against the councils' express discretion to set trading hours, informed by community feedback.

A case can also be made against alcohol-related harm, and by logical association the availability of cheap alcohol late at night. Research released earlier this year suggests heavier drinkers are more likely to buy cheaper alcohol from off-premise outlets, and at later times.

The Tasman off-licence policy that allows the ability to buy alcohol 15 hours a day hardly seems restrictive.

The other part of the Tasman policy is to restrict on-licences - restaurants and bars - to a 2am closing time, instead of the 4am default time, or the 3am closing time it says 21 outlets were permitted to have.

The Hospitality Association disputes those figures and a Tasman survey favouring earlier closures, but again it seems a moderate approach, particularly as special licences are also available for major events.

The Nelson Mail