Drinking restraints proposed in city

A tougher approach to alcohol in Dunedin could put an end to late-night alcohol shots in bars and clear outdoor areas of drinkers as early as 11pm.

The proposals are among changes suggested in the Dunedin City Council's draft local alcohol policy, made public yesterday ahead of public consultation beginning next month.

The policy, aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm, suggests bars should close at 3am, an hour earlier than the present closing time, and an earlier 1am start to the one-way door policy.

Bar staff would be banned from selling shots of alcohol after midnight, and bars' outdoor seating areas - on public footpaths - could be cleared of drinkers from as early as 11pm.

There would also be new restrictions on alcohol retailers wanting to set up shop near schools, while supermarkets and bottle stores would have to stop selling alcohol an hour earlier, at 10pm.

Octagon bar owners and the Hospitality Association of New Zealand's Otago branch president, Mark Scully, warned they were preparing to fight the changes, which would hurt businesses and cost jobs.

However, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull stressed the proposals were not yet policy, and the council wanted to hear from its community before making final decisions.

The Octagon could be a vibrant while occasionally ''threatening'' late-night environment, but any changes to opening hours needed to tackle alcohol-related harm and not simply be a ''knee jerk'' response, he said.

''I have reservations about any change that has not got some evidential basis.''

The draft policy has been developed with input from councillors, police, health authorities and hospitality industry representatives.

It would be considered at Monday's full council meeting before being released for public consultation.

The consultation period would run from September 1 to October 10 and be followed by a public hearing.

A report by council alcohol licensing officer Kevin Mechen said police data showed offending peaked after midnight, and was more serious the closer it got to 4am.

Evidence showed earlier closing times led to a ''significant decrease'' in problems elsewhere, and police believed new limits on drinking in outdoor spaces would further reduce conflict between patrons and those queuing to get in.

At present, bars' outdoor areas were not covered by alcohol licences, and bars used public footpaths ''at the pleasure of the council'', Mr Mechen said.

The proposal would extend licences to include outdoor areas, and drinking could be prohibited in the outdoor areas after a set time, ''such as 11pm'', he said.

Banning the sale of shots of alcohol after midnight would reduce consumption, which accelerated with intoxication.

Supermarkets and other off-licences, as well as being forced to stop selling alcohol sooner, would also be prevented from selling individual serves of beer, cider, or RTDs - but not boutique beers - altogether.

Terrace Bar owner John MacDonald, who was yet to see details of the proposals, said they appeared ''heavily biased'' against bars, when the target should be cheap supermarket sales which encouraged ''pre-loading'' at home.

A one-way door policy, earlier closure of outdoor areas to drinkers and other restrictions would be ''challenging'' to manage for bar staff, and would encourage people to drink at home, he said.

That would hurt businesses and could cost jobs, meaning many Octagon bar owners would oppose the changes.

''It is going to, without doubt, have a significant impact on all of the bars around the Octagon, and there's some pretty severe consequences for some of them, so I'm sure there's definitely going to be appeals.''

Octagon bar owner Grant Ellis agreed, saying 1000 full and part-time jobs across the city could be affected - through job losses or reduced hours - as the industry adjusted to a drop in trade.

Mr Scully said the early closure of outdoor areas would be ''very controversial'', but other restrictions would also create problems.

Earlier closing hours would bring alcohol-related problems forward, not prevent them, and forcing large numbers of people on to the street at the same time would create conflict, he said.

He agreed the focus should be on supermarket sales, not bars, which were ''the safest place for young people to be''.

''To me, that's a whole lot safer environment than people having a party in a park at 5am.''

National Addiction Centre director Prof Doug Sellman agreed the policy should do more to control supermarket sales, but dismissed concerns about jobs based on numbers ''plucked out of the air to overstate something''.

He supported other proposed restrictions, saying every hour counted when it came to reducing consumption and alcohol-related harm.

''Every hour you can get it back, the more harm you can avoid.''


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