Alcohol policy could mean changes for city bars

The Dunedin City Council (DCC) has started work on a policy that could impose greater restrictions on alcohol outlets in the city, DCC liquor licensing and projects officer Kevin Mechen says.

The council was looking into limiting opening hours for pubs and bars and restricting the density of alcohol outlets, Mr Mechen said.

The policy, which was "about 80%" finished, was on hold until the Alcohol Reform Bill, which would determine the powers given to local councils, went through Parliament, he said.

He expected the Bill would be passed by June, if not sooner. The draft policy would then likely be put up for consultation.

The council's present policy on opening hours was introduced in 2006 and sets a closing time of 3am for pubs and bars in non-residential areas.

However, this did not apply to owners who had 24-hour licences before 2006 and outlets licensed after 2006 could apply to the Dunedin District Licensing Agency committee to stay open later.

The Alcohol Reform Bill is expected to give councils greater powers to negotiate and enforce closing times.

Mr Mechen said as part of the council's work on the policy it was looking into the best option for closing hours.

"We are still negotiating those because the Alcohol Reform Bill [as it stands] is saying that 4am is the latest you can stay open to, with a 2am lock-in."

The council was looking into whether a policy on alcohol-outlet density should affect liquor outlets that are already there or be based on "existing use" in different parts of the city.

"All the research indicates that the greater the outlet density the greater the harm in that area," he said.

Mr Mechen said from meetings he had attended it appeared that most people in the community were in support of greater restrictions.

A recent University of Otago national study found majority support for earlier closing times for bars and pubs and stricter enforcement of server laws.

Mr Mechen said it was "important that when it becomes time to release any draft policy to the public that we get some sort of meaningful debate going".

Hospitality New Zealand (HANZ) Otago branch president Mark Scully said in a personal capacity he supported local authorities having greater powers to control opening hours and outlet density.

However, he said his views differed from HANZ as an organisation, which was against any restrictions on closing hours.

He said he did not have a problem with restricting the number of outlets, as long as it was done on a case-by-case basis.

"Do we need more bars in the Octagon? No we don't, [but] do we need more bars perhaps scattered around some of the suburbs to stop some of the people having to go to the Octagon? Maybe we do.

"We would always advocate a good, competitive market and I would hate to see somebody be limited in their opportunity to put a nice little cafe and bar into a suburb," Mr Scully said.

When it came to limiting the opening hours of pubs and bars he said he would prefer there was no "lock-in" time.

This was because not allowing people back into pubs after a certain time could split up groups of people who went to town together, which could result in people being forced to either go home alone or hang out on the street.

Terrace Bar owner John MacDonald said the industry in Dunedin was "fully expecting" the council to make changes, but urged them to consider industry concerns.

If the council's policy was too restrictive, pubs and bars would go out of business.

A problem with closing times was that everyone left bars at the same time and went out into the street, which could lead to violence, he said.


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