The Far North District Council has attracted criticism from some quarters for abandoning the Local Alcohol Policy process, and supposedly losing the opportunity to reduce off-licence opening hours, but Mayor John Carter says there is more than one way to achieve what critics are looking for.
The council was now working directly with communities to reduce the availability of alcohol, after abandoning a four-year legal process to restrict retail hours.
Within a week of the council dropping its Proposed Local Alcohol Policy (PLAP), he had met with Kaikohe community representatives to discuss specific ways of reducing the impact of alcohol abuse in the town, Mr Carter said.
"Several community leaders, such as Mike Shaw in Kaikohe, have expressed their disappointment that a process funded by Far North ratepayers was not concluded, but I think we can achieve similar alcohol harm reductions quite quickly by talking directly to retailers," he said.
"I'm confident that businesses will act in the best interests of their communities, and will voluntarily reduce the availability of alcohol in selected areas."
He doubted that many residents were aware that the Far North already operated a voluntary accord with alcohol retailers that restricted the hours during which alcohol was sold.
"This has not changed since we abandoned the PLAP, and it shows that common-sense, voluntary accords like this can be as effective as bylaws or legislation," he said. "My goal is to enhance our accord by negotiating other rules where they are most needed."
Mr Shaw had been positive about the voluntary accord being enhanced in Kaikohe.
Mr Carter said he shared community leaders' frustrations over abandoning the Local Alcohol Policy process, but the legislation had been new and untested when the council drafted its policy four years ago, believing it reflected people's wishes.
"Unfortunately, as these policies were tested around the country, it became clear that the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority required councils to provide a high level of evidence to back their proposals.
We abandoned our proposal because we had already spent more than $188,000 on legal costs defending it against challenges from retailers and community groups. Add in staff time and the costs are probably more in the vicinity of $200,000-plus.
"Based on public statements from those who opposed our proposal, we believed that continuing the process would inevitably incur further legal costs, with little guarantee of a meaningful outcome."
The council was aware some communities wanted tighter rules on alcohol sales and would work with them, alongside businesses, to achieve "reasonable changes".
In the meantime the council supported a national review of Local Alcohol Policy provisions so that all communities could have an effective say on where and when alcohol was sold.