Council keen to use new alcohol laws

The Christchurch City Council is preparing to take immediate advantage of new laws giving local authorities greater powers over where and when alcohol is sold.

The legislation, currently before Parliament, replaces the liberal and centralised licensing system that has been in place since 1989 - a system that saw the number of liquor outlets in Christchurch increase threefold - with a more effective and localised system.

It means local authorities will have the power to put in place their own policies to regulate the concentration and location of on and off-licences and the ability to dictate licensing conditions.

To take advantage of the greater powers afforded them under the Alcohol Reform Bill, councils must develop a local alcohol policy (Lap) in consultation with the police, health officials and the community.

Council staff are recommending the council begin work on developing that policy now, even though it is likely to be another couple of months before the bill is passed.

The council's move to have more say over where and when alcohol can be sold follows revelations that alcohol-related injuries and illnesses cost Canterbury's health system about $63 million a year.

A report released by Berl Economics shows that in 2006, Canterbury's healthcare costs from alcohol were $38.8m. Last year they were $62.8m.

It is also timely as the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes have caused changes to the location of many licensed premises in Christchurch.

City council figures show 45 per cent of central-city licensed premises are closed because of damage or demolition or because they are still within the red-zone cordon. In suburban areas, 25 per cent of premises have closed because of damage or demolition.

Throughout the city, about 100 premises are holding off renewing their licences because of insurance or building condition issues.

Council planning committee chairwoman Cr Sue Wells said it was important the council moved ''swiftly and properly'' to exercise its new powers under the act as there was strong community support for tighter regulation of pubs and alcohol outlets.

''People have wanted more ability to control where licensed premises are but we haven't had the ability to control that with the Sale of Liquor Act being the way it was.''

She said the policy could set restrictions on where alcohol premises could be located, but the council alone could not solve all the alcohol issues in the community.

''We have certain areas of influence, but the actions of the council alone will never solve the issue of problem drinking in New Zealand,'' she said.

Canterbury police operations manager Inspector Craig McKay said police were working closely with the council on the policy and were keen to see tighter regulations on  opening hours and the location and concentration of liquor outlets.

Noting that about 30 per cent of all offences dealt with by police involved alcohol, McKay said police wanted the policy developed as soon as legally possible.

''This is a good tool to reduce alcohol-related harm,'' he said.

Now was the ideal time to formulate the policy as the decisions reached would help shape how Christchurch developed after the quakes.

The Press