Mount Maunganui bars and restaurants could soon be able to extend their opening hours under a controversial plan to stop revellers driving to Tauranga to continue drinking.
Western Bay and Tauranga City councillors met yesterday to decide on the alcohol licensing restrictions to go into the Western Bay's draft local alcohol policy.
Councillors agreed to allow bars, taverns, restaurants, nightclubs and hotels throughout the Western Bay to be open as late as 3am. A one-way door policy would be in place from 2am meaning no new customers could enter the bar for the last hour.
Mount Maunganui bars and restaurants are only licensed to remain open until 1am while those in Tauranga can stay open until 3am.
The hospitality industry has welcomed the plan but Stuart Caldwell, manager of Get Smart - a Tauranga-based counselling service for young people struggling with drug and alcohol issues - said extending opening hours would not solve the problem.
"In Australia when they brought the bar closing hours back from 5am to 3am they had a 30 per cent drop in the incidents of alcohol-fuelled violent assaults," he said.
Hospitality New Zealand Bay of Plenty branch manager Clayton Mitchell said the decision was a pleasant surprise. More than 20 hospitality representatives turned up to the meeting ready to fight against an 11pm closing time, which had been suggested.
"I think we're largely going in the right direction. There's been a dramatic reduction in alcohol harm," said Mr Mitchell, who is also owner of Ivory Boutique Restaurant and Bar and Mount Mellick Traditional Irish Restaurant and Bar.
Armazem Restaurant and Bar owner Lucas Fleury agreed consistent closing times would stop people migrating from the Mount to Tauranga and discourage drink driving.
"It's definitely a benefit to us," he said.
"Quiet often that's what will happen to our customers. They come and have dinner and after we are closed they are moving on. A lot of Mount locals don't want to go to Tauranga. Most people would be happy to stay.
"There are a lot of occasions where not being able to be open until after 1am has affected us."
Astrolabe Bar manager Michael Julian also supported the decision although he was unsure if he would take up the option to stay open later.
Tauranga City Council liquor licensing inspector Graeme Cushing said as the law stood, bars and restaurants could be open 24 hours if the liquor licensing inspector agreed.
Opening hours were unlikely to change as the district licensing committee could impose earlier hours on individual businesses if they saw fit even if the local alcohol policy stipulated that bars could remain open until 3am, he said.