Dunedin's local alcohol policy

The Dunedin City Council is working on one of its most contentious, and arguably most important, policies in recent years.

Its draft local alcohol policy was approved for six weeks of public consultation at a full council meeting yesterday.

Other territorial authorities throughout Otago and the country are developing similar local alcohol policies, which were able to come into effect from the beginning of the year as new legally enforceable powers under The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

That Act aimed to give local communities more input into licensing decisions as part of the Government's response to the Law Commission's 2010 report, ''Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm''.

The policies are optional, but allow for limits and conditions to be imposed regarding the location and density of new liquor outlets and to restrict or extend the maximum opening hours set in the new Act of 8am-4am for on-licences and 7am-11pm for off-licences, as long as they are ''reasonable and consistent with the object of the Act'', which is ''that the sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol should be undertaken safely and responsibly, and the harm caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol should be minimised''.

The DCC has indicated it is set to take a tougher stance, with a raft of proposed measures aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm.

For bars, it would mean a 3am closing time, introducing a one-way door policy from 1am, licensing outdoor seating areas and closing them possibly from 11pm, and banning alcohol shots after midnight.

For supermarkets and bottle stores, the proposals would require alcohol sales to stop at 10pm, and single units of beer - except boutique brands - cider and RTDs would be banned for sale.

Under the policy, no new alcohol premises would be allowed to start up within 100m of a school, early childhood facility or other ''sensitive'' facility.

The draft policy has been developed with input from councillors, police, health authorities and hospitality industry representatives, as required by the new law.

There is fierce opposition to the DCC policy from many bar owners, who fear their businesses will suffer and jobs will be lost.

They are angry that the restrictions on them appear harsher than those proposed for supermarkets and bottle stores, where they say the real harm is done through drinkers ''pre-loading'' on cheap booze.

Those in favour of tighter controls will include police, emergency services and health workers, who have long been at the front line in terms of dealing with the antisocial side and harmful effects of alcohol.

Indeed, the news and court pages of this newspaper are regularly filled with stories about alcohol-fuelled violence and its sometimes tragic impact.

The DCC had considered a report by council alcohol licensing officer Kevin Mechen, who said police data showed offending peaked after midnight, and was more serious the closer it got to 4am, and that evidence showed earlier closing times led to a ''significant decrease'' in problems.

The Law Commission report showed crime, injury, long-term physical and mental health issues, and social disfunction were estimated to cost taxpayers $1.2 billion annually.

It said about 25% of drinkers - about 700,000 people - typically consumed large quantities when they drank.

The report stated: ''It is hard to think of any other lawful product available in our society that contributes so much to so many social ills.''

While the Government has been criticised for not implementing some of the report's major recommendations, its new legislation, including the powers for local authorities, are steps in the right direction on a long and winding road.

Our hard-man macho drinking culture, from the days of the ''six o'clock swill'' to our current access-all-hours permissiveness, has not helped New Zealanders.

Again, personal responsibility is paramount, and everyone has a role to play in changing attitudes and actions.

It is important all sectors of the community air their opinions as the draft policy goes out for consultation.

But one thing seems certain: while a ''good night out'' need not be off the menu, whether it really needs to be ''all night long'' is being increasingly questioned.

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