Dry Easter ahead?

CHE BAKER IN WANAKA
Last updated 14:35 02/04/2014
Southland Times photo
CHE BAKER/Fairfax NZ

Wanaka Bullock Bar staff Christable Ritson, Margo Johnston, Lucy Appleton, Anna Mieke de Hoog and co-owner Sean Colbourne want the bar to be able to open during Easter weekend and while Warbirds over Wanaka is held. The bar’s special license application, like six others in Wanaka, has been declined by the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

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Wanaka bar owners and managers are becoming increasingly concerned they will not be able to open during the busy Easter weekend because of changes in the alcohol act.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council liquor licensing committee will consider special liquor licences for Good Friday and Easter Sunday for Wanaka on Tuesday after seven bars had applications initially declined.

Elaine Quo Vadis, who helps run Water Bar, Woodys Pool Bar and Barluga, said she had concerns that the special licences would not be granted.

The Water Bar was able to trade under a dining licence, where people dining could also have an alcoholic drink, but Woodys and Barluga could not and had to apply for the special licence to host ticketed live music events.

Both special licences were opposed by the police and the Health Ministry who said they were ''contrived events'' and were held often at the bars throughout the year.

Quo Vadis said the changes in law meant licences were granted in a ''less flexible manner'' and those granting them were ''unbending.''

She felt it was likely they would be declined.Warbirds over Wanaka was not just an event held at the Wanaka Airport, but an event which impacted the whole community, she said.

Those attending the event would be looking for things to do afterwards and restaurants in town were unable to cope with the influx and pressure themselves, she said.

''From a tourist point of view it was a negative effect on the outlook of the town,'' she said.

Quo Vadis would be attending the hearing to voice her concerns.

''We are not going to standby and let them do that without a fight.''

Wanaka Bullock Bar co-owner Sean Colbourne said the law was ''archaic'' and put handcuffs on businesses during Easter.

Easter weekend and Warbirds over Wanaka was a profitable time, he said.

''They're driving the compliance engine with a technicality. They have the discretion to change it. I think we are getting set up for disappointment,'' Mr Colbourne.

''They're hanging their hats on a religious technicality ... surely common sense should ... prevail in a tourist town.

''It's just an absolute folly ... we have all these visitors coming to town who will be absolutely confused. It (Easter trading laws) creates so much confusion. It creates more bad will,'' he said.

Queenstown police alcohol harm reduction officer Linda Stevens declined to comment on the matter as it was before a hearing and council regulatory manager Lee Webster has not returned calls.

Changes were made to special licences when the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 came into effect in December meaning all applications would be decided by the new district licensing committees.

Opposed applications will be decided at a full licensing hearings and unopposed applications could be decided by the chairman.

The committee had to consider more criteria when deciding whether to grant an application including whether it would impact the good order and amenity of an area, any local alcohol policy, and the design and layout of the area for the proposed event.

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Waitaki MP and tourism private secretary Jacqui Dean has come out in support of Wanaka bar owners, urging the local licensing committee to take a liberal approach.

''Shackling Wanaka bars with outdated rules that are not relevant in today's tourism market is punitive and ineffective.

''Easter is a hugely busy time for Wanaka and its business operators. It's a time when tourists from around the world come into the area to enjoy what the town has to offer.

''Not allowing Wanaka bars to open at Easter not only restricts their ability to operate effectively, but impacts negatively on the visitor experience at a time when we want to promote out country to international tourists.''

Dean said she continued to be disappointed at the impact all forms of Easter trading laws had on towns like Wanaka and she would continue to advocate for a freeing up of the legislation.

In 2012 Dean's bill to open shops on Easter Sunday in the Waitaki Electorate lost by 49 votes in favour to 70 votes against on a conscience vote in Parliament.

- The Southland Times

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