Police press for earlier closing of bars

By Amy McGillivray

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A proposal to stop patrons entering Tauranga bars after midnight would make it even tougher for the hospitality industry, bar owners say.

Western Bay of Plenty police area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton spoke in favour of such a scheme at an alcohol policy workshop attended by Tauranga City and Western Bay District Council members and staff, hospitality representatives, police and health professionals yesterday.

The meeting was the first of many in which councillors planned to discuss an alcohol policy for the area as allowed by the Government's Alcohol Reform Bill.

Mr Paxton said earlier closing hours and a one-way door policy where new patrons could not enter bars after a certain time would decrease disorderly behaviour on Friday and Saturday nights.

He recommended a closing time no later than 2am for bars and restaurants in downtown Tauranga and 1am at Mount Maunganui with a one-way door policy in effect from midnight in both areas.

"As it gets later in the night we propose one-way door policies. It's not early in the night that's causing us trouble."

De Bier Haus owner Matt Hayward said midnight was too early to start such a scheme.

"For us we're not just a town of oldies. We're also a town for young people, and tourists expect that."

The restaurant had already agreed to trial a variation of the one-way door policy from 2am on busy nights but a quiet summer meant there was little need for it.

"I think that's the way it should be going," he said. "It would have an effect on us. We're in a situation that we're all scraping for every dollar we can get at the moment."

Western Bay of Plenty alcohol harm reduction officer Sergeant Nigel McGlone said a one-way door policy implemented at Bobby's Bar in Mount Maunganui was proof it could work. "When they used to trade until 6am we had issues there with intoxication and the place being treated like a tavern instead of a strip club. When everything else closed people migrated to Bobby's."

A Liquor Licensing Authority decision cut the bar's hours to 3am with no new patrons allowed to enter after 1am, Mr McGlone said.

"What we found was that people have to make a decision if they want to be in there by 1am. We found that just stopped so many issues. There was no real attraction there any more."

Since then the bar's hours had been further reduced to 1am.

Mr McGlone said if no bars or clubs were able to admit new customers after midnight it would encourage people to stay where there they were or go home rather than wander the streets.

Toi Te Ora public health service medical officer of health Dr Neil de Wet said the fewer alcohol outlets and the shorter the opening hours the better from a medical point of view.

"Intoxicated patients create a huge amount of work for doctors. They are hard to assess."

They often ended up needing extra tests such as CT scans to establish whether their behaviour was the result of alcohol or a brain injury, he said.

Councillors decided the joint governance committee would be responsible for formulating a draft policy and reporting back to the councils.

The committee is likely to first meet to discuss the policy in April or May.

The draft will be released for community consultation about July.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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