Easter trading hours fight looms

Easter trading hours seem set to be a contentious issue in Wanaka again this year.

Seven Wanaka bars and one Queenstown bar have applied to the Queenstown Lakes District Licensing Committee for special licences to open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Hearings are due to be held in Queenstown on April 7 and 8.

Bullock bar owner Brendan Quirke contacted the Otago Daily Times concerned that without a special licence, bar doors would remain closed when 25,000 extra people were in town for the three-day Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow and other events.

Mr Quirke said it was frustrating bars were not able to run their business on ''what potentially could be the busiest weekend in town''.

''It's going to cost us a fortune in terms of loss of revenue.''

There was also the issue of staff losing two days' wages, he said.

''The joke of it is that Warbirds and the jet [boat] sprints are allowed to serve alcohol at their event.''

Warbirds general manager Ed Taylor said yesterday the event had special licences to sell alcohol. The Sale of Liquor Act prohibits the sale of alcohol on Good Friday and Easter Sunday except when people are dining or where special licences are issued. Off-licence sales of wine on Easter Sunday are permitted in some circumstances.

Mr Quirke said during a meeting of Wanaka licensees in December, he understood police and the Queenstown Lakes District Council indicated they would not oppose the bars' application for special licences. However, he understood the police stance had changed.

Police could not be contacted for comment and council regulatory manager Lee Webster said he could not comment while the applications were in front of the licensing committee.

Mr Webster said in the past, applications for special licences on ''sacrosanct days'' were heard by the council but now they were being heard by a newly formed committee chaired by former Liquor Licensing Authority chairman Bill Unwin.

He indicated decisions made by the committee over Easter trading this year would set a precedent for future applications.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, who has been a strong advocate of liberalising all forms of Easter trading, believed the committee should bear in mind Wanaka's bars catered largely for visitors over Easter.

She considered a ''liberal approach'' should be taken in particular to those bars serving food and having a history of providing good hospitality.

Lake Wanaka Tourism general manager James Helmore said the Easter trading laws were a ''lost opportunity'' for the Wanaka economy.