Local voice in booze policy welcomed

Last updated 13:06 21/02/2013

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OPINION: Curbing alcohol-fuelled disorder in our urban centres is not a quick or easy fix.

Just as the issue itself has multiple causes, it needs a combination of approaches to tackle it.

Many felt Parliament missed a chance to set the bar when the Government's long awaited alcohol reforms last year did not change the drinking or purchasing age, or ban high-alcohol ready-mixed drinks.

However, the legislation passed in December did bring in greater powers allowing local authorities, and their communities, to develop alcohol licensing policies.

This week the Nelson City Council voted to go ahead with a local alcohol policy and next week the Tasman District Council will progress its plan.

Among the options the councils can consider are restrictions on the density and location of licensed premises. They can, for example, determine maximum trading hours in their area and limit the location of licensed premises near schools.

Measures such as a one-way door policy that prevents bar patrons entering a venue after a certain time also come into the mix.

Police have promoted the one-way initiative several times in the last decade, most recently in 2010 when bar owners rejected a pre-Christmas trial.

They cited doubts over its effectiveness then, and have raised similar concerns at the prospect of it being introduced under the new laws.

The Hospitality Association also says that bar owners are also working co-operatively with police in a crackdown on violence and disorder and do not need more regulation.

But that's a bit rich, considering the crackdown was an initiative of incoming police bosses Richard Chambers and Steve Greally last April, that also had to drag bar owners into line. Mr Greally says licensees' behaviour has "improved dramatically", with only a "couple of bars popping their heads above the parapets". He supports the one-way door initiative, should the council, in consultation with the community, go that way.

Police deserve credit for their sustained efforts in Bridge St on Friday and Saturday nights that have made the area safer over the past year, but that can only be part of the solution.

Of course, a one-way door won't be a cure-all, but as another tool to try to change drinkers' behaviour it is worth a try. Its introduction to the pre-earthquake Christchurch bars along the Oxford Tce strip was credited with reducing alcohol-fuelled violence in the area.

The bar owners are on firmer ground when they point to other, more powerful drivers of alcohol problems, such as the ready availability of cheap booze in supermarkets and other outlets.

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The new laws go only partway to addressing that with stronger rules about the types of stores eligible to sell alcohol, and restricting supermarkets and grocery stores to displaying alcohol in a single area.

The binge-drinking culture will not disappear overnight, but at least there are more tools available to curb its excesses. The community will be able to add its voice to the approach our councils take when the policies go out for consultation.

- The Nelson Mail

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