Debate looms on city's alcohol policy

RACHEL YOUNG AND LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2013

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It's divisive, it's contentious and the debate around it is about to flare up.

The Christchurch City Council's draft local alcohol policy (LAP) - a provision of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 - seeks to minimise alcohol-related harm in our community, but some fear it could also kill Christchurch's nightlife and drive young people out of the city.

Through the LAP, the council can, for the first time, regulate certain aspects of liquor licensing such as opening hours for licensed premises, controlling the location of licensed premises and impose early morning re-entry restrictions on bars.

Next week 168 submitters, including groups and individuals, will air their views on the proposed regulations in front of a full council hearings panel chaired by Sue Wells.

The task for the panel is to weigh up the competing views of those who believe tougher restrictions will reduce alcohol-related harm in the community with those who believe it will hurt their businesses and the economy and have little impact on the city's binge-drinking culture.

Alcohol-related issues cost the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) about $70 million annually and nationally an estimated 70,000 physical and sexual assaults each year were related to its consumption.

Alcohol consumption is blamed for much of the violent crime and antisocial behaviour that occurs in Christchurch. It is also a contributing factor in the chronic diseases and ill-health experienced by many of the city's residents.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey says the city needs an LAP to control licensed premises and alcohol availability as part of a broader package of harm minimising measures.

Humphrey believes it is possible to change the culture of drinking without negatively affecting publicans.

"At 8pm, I don't want the young people of Christchurch sitting in their cold flats drinking. I want them to be sitting in the bars with a $14 mojito in front of them. It's a city that functions from early evening all the way through," he says.

"A quality hospitality industry is one that can make its money early in the evening."

A one-way door policy after 1am, closing at 3am and off-licences opening at 9am and closing at 9pm, will help to encourage people to head out earlier, which would cut the amount of time for preloading, Humphrey says.

Targeting off-licences is key as it pushes people to plan their drinking, align supermarkets with bottle stores and reiterate the message that alcohol is not an ordinary commodity.

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"This policy will encourage young adults to access the night-time economy earlier in the evening, reduce preloading and bring about a reduction in the high rates of intoxication that lead to so many problems."

He says Victoria St should close at 1am as it is a residential area.

"They [residents] have people p......, s...... and vomiting in their gardens and goodness knows what else and it's not good for them.

"It's not good for their mental health."

Police believe the LAP could potentially be the "biggest crime prevention tool of this generation".

Canterbury district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles says Christchurch is the poster child for alcohol-related harm.

In April 2013 Canterbury led the country in "drunks taken to detox/home" and in apprehensions for disorder with 244 and 298 respectively.

Over half of all victims of violent crime are aged less than 27 years so increased trading hours and access to alcohol equated to victimisation of the city's under 27-year-olds.

"While it is accepted that a vibrant night-time economy is important to communities, this comes with a cost," he says.

"Police recognise that inner-city rejuvenation is important and a worthwhile objective, however this must be balanced with the costs that can be associated with late night entertainment.

"When hours of sale are increased, consumption and harm increase and vice versa. Restrictions on hours of trade are an important policy lever for managing alcohol-related harm."

He says later trading hours are associated with increases in consumption and health damage, assaults, road crashes, fall-related injuries, drink-driving and the police workload.

A Ministry of Justice analysis of New Zealand Police alcohol-related crime data for the past five years shows that the later a licensed premises stays open, the more offending there is related to it.

The expected rate of offences associated with licensed premises closing between 3.01am and 5am is 8.9 times that of those closing at midnight or earlier.

Knowles says a defined late-night zone provided clarity and certainty to both licensees and members of the public, while allowing police to plan for and deploy resources to targeted areas.

Multiple late-night areas across the city, such as exist currently, divide and disperse police resources, he says.

Likewise, a one-way door provision is "essential" as it would help stagger leaving times for licensed premise patrons, which will reduce the likelihood of disorder and assaults.

"To not have a one-way door provision or to dilute the provision in any way would be to dilute the potential alcohol-related harm reduction benefits of the overall policy."

But Hospitality New Zealand (HNZ) has a very different view.

It worries that if the proposed restrictions go ahead businesses will suffer and young people will be driven out of the city.

"Give young people a reason to come to Christchurch and not a reason for them to choose somewhere else," says HNZ Canterbury executive committee member Clive Weston.

He believes the draft LAP focuses too much on restricting on-licences and fails to address the real issues such as preloading and the consumption of alcohol in uncontrolled environments.

"Seventy-five per cent of all alcohol sold is done so from off-licensed premises such as bottle stores and supermarkets - it is those licences that therefore should be the major focus on any restrictions," Weston says.

He also questions why the police and the CDHB are focusing on winding back on-premise hours when this will only force more people to drink cheap and readily available alcohol from supermarkets in uncontrolled environments.

"The proposed LAP will do little to address the binge-drinking culture of our society," he says.

In its submission HNZ argues that within the central city's entertainment precincts bars should be able to trade up until 5am and in other mixed use areas of the city they should be able to remain open at least until 3am.

It argues, too, that a one-way door policy should be implemented only on a voluntary basis.

"Our research shows that shorter opening hours fail to significantly reduce society's alcohol misuse and have serious, unintended consequences on those operating in the night time economy," says Weston.

"The suggestion that reduced closing times will stop people misusing alcohol is flawed."

DRINKING HOURS

Draft local alcohol policy

A closing time of 3am in the Central City Entertainment Precincts (excluding Victoria St) for taverns, bars, pubs, night-clubs and clubs, with a one-way door policy from 1am.

A closing time of 1am elsewhere in the Central City (including Victoria St) for taverns, bars, pubs, night-clubs and clubs, with a discretionary one-way door policy where appropriate.

A closing time of 1am in suburban centres in the city for taverns, bars, pubs, night-clubs and clubs, with a discretionary one-way door policy where appropriate.

Maximum trading hours for selling alcohol of 9am until 9pm for all off-licences in Christchurch.

Restrictions on the location of new bottle stores and taverns to business zones.

Maximum trading hours of 8am until 1am for restaurants and cafes throughout the city.

What happens next?

The provisional LAP will be publicly notified in early 2014 and open to appeals.

Final adoption of an LAP is not likely to be until mid to late 2014, depending on the length of the appeal process.

- The Press

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