Tighter control mooted

Assistant manager of Henry's Centre City Rebecca Glover restocks the wine shelves yesterday....
Assistant manager of Henry's Centre City Rebecca Glover restocks the wine shelves yesterday. Photo by Dan Hutchinson

Reduced hours for supermarket liquor sales, earlier closing times for bars and other new rules are all under consideration by the Dunedin City Council as it prepares to release its local alcohol policy (Lap).

The new Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act that came into force in December last year has been described as ''inadequate'' and ''tweaks'' by those observing the effects in Dunedin so far.

The biggest change is the ability of local authorities to set their own rules.

Police alcohol harm prevention officer Sgt Ian Paulin, of Dunedin, said the main thing that had been picked up in the new legislation so far was the definition of intoxication.

It is illegal to serve alcohol to an intoxicated person but, in the past, people have been able to argue successfully in court that they did not know.

Closing hours have also been brought back to a maximum of 4am, although this can be further adjusted by local authorities through their Lap. Police favour 3am closing times.

Dunedin bar owner Rob Dale said his bars were turning away at least one-third of patrons for being too intoxicated because of the pre-loading culture in Dunedin.

He said alcohol reforms had only decreased the number of people drinking in bars, rather than the number of people drinking.

University of Otago Preventive and Social Medicine professor and Alcohol Action New Zealand Dunedin spokeswoman Jennie Connor said the new law was inadequate to meet its objective of reducing harm from alcohol and left ''everything to be done''.

The most effective strategies for changing drinking behaviour were increasing the price of alcohol, reducing licensing hours and number of outlets, raising the purchase age and lowering the legal blood alcohol limit for driving, Prof Connor said.

Council liquor licensing co-ordinator Kevin Mechen said the draft Lap was due to be considered by the council's
regulatory committee on July 24.

It ''tried to balance what the community want, what the research says and what the industry want''.

Every one of the 22 local alcohol policies put out across the country so far has been appealed - with the big supermarket chains particularly worried about reduced opening hours.

Regulatory committee chairman David Benson-Pope said the city council had been holding off releasing its Lap until some of the court cases had been sorted out elsewhere.

''Constraints on the off-licence sale of alcohol are going to be hotly contested, particularly by the bottle stores and the supermarkets.

''There are huge cases running further north right now about the sort of restrictions that we would want to include as well.''

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Marion Poore said the issue of pre-loading related to the ease with which people could buy cheap alcohol from off-licences and supermarkets.

She said it was ''a very challenging issue''.

- by Dan Hutchinson 

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