Alarm over illegal bars

Illegal backyard bars are operating in Taranaki and more could open their doors if councils decide to shut pubs early.

A professionally-run shed bar is thriving in Stratford and there have been reports of bars being run on private properties in Hawera and Patea as well, Chris Hince, of Hospitality New Zealand has said.

He was in New Plymouth yesterday to speak against the joint New Plymouth District Council and Stratford District Council's proposed Local Alcohol Policy, which would tighten controls around the sale and supply of alcohol. He told councillors that if they decided to shut inner city bars at 2am, they must be prepared for the "unintended consequences". "When licensed premises are restricted, that gap is then filled by the illegal bars."

Hince had been tipped off about the illegal shed bar in Stratford and said it was not the only one in the province.

"It's no secret there are illegal bars and sheds that operate in Taranaki," he said.

"The one that operates in Stratford is within walking distance of the CBD. It is professionally run and advertises on Facebook and through social media."

Hospitality New Zealand had notified the Stratford District Council about the illegal watering hole, but as the bar was not licensed there was nothing the council could do.

"Likewise the police find it hard to deal with because it is on private property and they have actually had to get warrants to go on and inspect and see what is happening."

Illegal bars were "utterly ubiquitous across the country" and further restricting inner city bars would only encourage backyard bingeing, he said.

However, Senior Sergeant Thomas McIntyre told councillors they had the power to make a significant positive impact on the community. Closing inner city bars at 2am instead of 3am, and forging ahead with the plans to limit the sale of alcohol to between 10am and 9pm at supermarkets and bottle stores was imperative.

"Every day of the week we see the harmful affects caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol," he said.

"If you ask any police officer if the CBD is a vibrant place in the early hours of the morning they'll say yes - if you don't mind violence, stupidity, bad language, the smell of urine, property damage and the like."

New Plymouth police had an extra seven officers on the beat on Friday and Saturday nights to account for the appalling behaviour associated with excess alcohol consumption, he said. The regulations around the sale of alcohol "must be tightened in bars, bottle stores and supermarkets".

However, supermarket owners and operators disagreed and said early morning customers would be disadvantaged if they could not buy alcohol before 10am.

Julie Daniels, senior solicitor for Foodstuffs NZ, was representing all Pak ‘N Save, New World, Four Square, Shop Rite and Toops stores in the area, and spoke at the hearing.

Restricting the sale of alcohol to between the hours of 10am and 9pm would cause major inconvenience to early morning supermarket shoppers, she said.

"In the Stratford region over 2000 customer transactions occur before 10am. We are not primarily concerned with missing out on the sale of alcohol between 7am and 10am, but are much more concerned about the inconvenience this would cause for these customers."

In Taranaki, alcohol-only purchases made up 0.37 per cent of the the total sales made before 10am, she said.

"Supermarkets are not being used as bottle stores early in the morning, but rather alcohol is being purchased when customers are doing a wider grocery shop."

Hearings into the proposed policy will continue on August 15 and 28.

Taranaki Daily News