Booze lobby fails to sway district councillors

Last updated 05:00 09/04/2014

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Inner-city bars are one step closer to being forced to close at 2am.

A new alcohol policy which could see bars and clubs shut at 2am instead of 3am passed another hurdle at the New Plymouth District Council policy committee meeting last night, despite opposition from hospitality leaders.

Chris Hince, the regional manager of Hospitality New Zealand, and David Stones, the president of the branch, spoke against the council's proposal.

Hince said licensed premises were already governed by very strict laws and to impose more blanket rules across all bars could very quickly "drive a business into bankruptcy".

The proposal, which would also see supermarkets and other off-licence premises being limited to sell alcohol between 10am and 9pm, came about after new legislation allowed councils to write their own alcohol policies to suit their district.

The policy could also stipulate the number of security staff in bars, restrict the use of outdoor areas, limit the sale of drinks after certain times, and restrict the type and size of drinks able to be served in one transaction, Hince said.

"The council should be focused on outcomes, not on micro-managing private business," he said.

"Hospitality businesses, despite being the hub of the community are not largely profitable. To have unfair staffing or capital expenditure requirements placed on them is likely to cause the demise of hotels and taverns and is unreasonable."

Reports to council said alcohol-related problems cost the Taranaki District Health Board nearly $350,000 a year and New Plymouth police received about 3250 calls a year that were alcohol-related.

Limiting the sale and supply of alcohol was one way to deal with these adverse affects on the community, the reports said.

However, Stones said most people dealing with the negative impact of excessive alcohol agreed that drinking at home or in uncontrolled places caused the vast majority of problems.

To reduce the hours of on-licence premises could in fact increase alcohol-related harm, he said, because it could lead to an increase in house parties.

"Please do not assume that just because the bars close early people will go home and the night will be over," he said.

"It is in fact extremely likely that early closing would result in increased private drinking."

However, a report to council from Taranaki District Health Board medical officer of health Jonathan Jarman said a Ministry of Justice study found that licensed premises closing between 3am and 5am had 8.9 times the expected rate of police offences compared with licensed premises closing at midnight.

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The harm caused by alcohol was one of the bigger public health issues in Taranaki, he said.

Despite the pleas from Hince and Stones, the policy committee passed a recommendation for the proposal to be discussed at the full council meeting on May 6, before being released for public consultation.

The new policy is being looked at by both the New Plymouth and Stratford district councils and councillor Shaun Biesiek said it was a shame the South Taranaki District Council had chosen not to be involved.

"It's going to be great for this thing to evolve.

"This is one of the policies I am excited about," he said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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