Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

The Big Read: Christchurch pubs, clubs fighting 1am closing blast police 'bully' tactics

For the last three years, Christchurch City Council has been working on its draft local alcohol policy (LAP). Pubs, clubs, and bars outside a small central city zone were told they would have to shut at 1am - a move backed by police. The pubs appealed, causing the council to indicate a relaxing of its stance and allow some bars to stay open after 1am. A final decision is yet to be made. Herald reporter Kurt Bayer takes a look at the ongoing row.

Christchurch pubs and clubs fighting controversial moves to shut them down at 1am feel they are being "bullied" and "harassed" by police.

Police cite data that 40 per cent of all crime in the city - like other major New Zealand centres - is alcohol-related.

However, pubs say it shouldn't all be blamed on them. Instead, they point to cheap booze being bought at off-licences like supermarkets and liquor stores.

Many pub and club owners, bar managers and industry sources spoken to by the Herald say a 1am close for those just outside the city centre would be a death blow for both the hospitality industry and New Zealand's second-biggest city.

"What young people would want to come and live and work in what will be a giant retirement village? They are killing the city," one prominent member of the hospitality industry said.

Hollywood star Sam Neill last month said Sydney's controversial lockout laws had turned the city into a "pointless place".

"I'm grumpy because Sydney used to be such a vibrant and exciting place in the late seventies and early eighties," he said.

"There was an extraordinary culture but the vibrancy has been sucked out of the place."

"HEAVY-HANDED POLICE TACTICS"

Many industry sources believe they have been unfairly targeted by the Canterbury Police team policing unit over the past two years.

They say that up to 15 police officers march into their bar on any given night.

Others report officers targeting patrons who are sober drivers, or on their first drink.

The frustrated publicans, club owners, and bar managers won't be named for fear of recrimination.

Amy McLellan-Minty, Hospitality New Zealand Canterbury, says members have raised concerns with her over what they see as "heavy-handed police tactics".

"Our members absolutely want to have relationships with police, because they need us, and we need them. We just don't want swarms of blue," she said.

One Christchurch bar suspends drinks service when team policing enters and only resumes when it has gone.

Another operator says up to 15-20 police officers come through their doors on any given night.

"In 20-odd years, I've never seen anything like it."

Another publican said a 1am close would be "devastating" for trade.

The rebuilding city needs tourism and vibrancy, he said.

But, he claimed, police scrutiny was making it difficult to operate.

"Policing suddenly changed about two years ago. It was a complete change of attitude," the pub owner said.

"Most nights we would have 5-10 police standing around the bar in full battle dress for half an hour to an hour. It's very anti-business."

One high-ranking council source, who would not be named, described the police tactics as bullying and malicious.

"It's almost like a Cartel-type approach really," they said.

"It's deplorable and without any real regard for what it means for the city or desirability for young people.

"I've spoken to a number of bar owners who are really great operators, and bring so much to the city, and they are s*** scared of putting their head above the parapet, because as soon as they do, they are off-side with police and liquor licensing and they will make life hell for them."

THE LONG FIGHT

Christchurch after dark. Photo / Supplied
Christchurch after dark. Photo / Supplied

For the last three years, pubs skirting the fringe of the post-disaster zone of the central business district have been fighting a war on two fronts.

Attracting tourists and locals to their establishments - in a city that remains pockmarked and scarred by the after-effects of the devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, with shipping containers, rubble, cleared whole city blocks - has been a tough sell.

Bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs in places like Victoria St, Addington, St Asaph St, and Merivale stepped up to meet the eating and drinking demands of a populace wanting to continue a somewhat normal life.

In the background has been the ongoing machinations of Christchurch City Council's draft Local Alcohol Policy (LAP).

It proposed in May last year to shut down those bars, which are deemed outside the 3am city centre zone, at 1am.

The plans were met with horror by the affected businesses and they pitched together to fight it.

The council indicated a u-turn on aspects of the policy earlier this year, and relaxed its proposals to allow many of them to stay open after 1am.

That move in turn angered local neighbourhood and residents associations who have vocally opposed late-night bars in their areas.

The police and district health board had supported a 1am close.

It still rumbles on, with the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (ARLA) still considering various submissions on where the plan is headed.

"GOOD OPERATORS WELCOME POLICE VISITS"

Inspector Glenn Nalder said the local alcohol policy will help reduce "crime and victimisation" in Christchurch.

"Police don't collect data specifically around alcohol-related crime but what we do know is that, in general, up to about 40 per cent of crime is considered to be alcohol-related.
Christchurch is no different to the rest of the country in that respect," he said.

He rejected accusations that team policing is being heavy-handed.

"We typically find that good operators welcome police visits," Nalder said.

"The purpose of licensed premise checks is to ensure provisions of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act are complied with.

"Licensed premised checks are undertaken following a risk assessment which takes into account a number of factors including police and public safety."

Nalder said most licensed premise checks are undertaken by only two police staff.

"Obviously some checks are undertaken by a greater number of staff but that depends on the premises and the situation," he added.

"But police have no issues with licensed premises that operator responsibly and ensure patrons have a good time safely."

Students in the city have voiced concerns over plans to limit late-night venues.

It could turn away potential students from coming to the city, with an additional "potential negative effect" being an increase in flat parties, James Addington, president of University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA), says.

"Feedback has included concerns regarding both perception and reality of whether Christchurch could claim to have a vibrant nightlife when compared to other cities around the country, in a post-quake environment."

PLACE ONUS ON PUNTERS

Hospitality New Zealand says the local alcohol policy is too premature, especially when
the rebuilding city is still "in a state of flux".

McLellan-Minty says the current national default hours work well, saying there's only two Christchurch premises that now trade post-3am.

But for those "staring down the barrel" of a potential 1am close, it's a huge concern.

"If we could show there was a huge amount of harm being caused by those 1am premises then we would have to reassess it, but the simple matter is, there isn't," McLellan-Minty said.

"Licensees are frustrated because they say, "Apart from close our doors, what else can we do?"

More onus needs to be placed on the misbehaving patron, rather than cracking down on the license holder whenever someone falls foul of the law, McLellan-Minty says.

She wants New Zealand to adopt the example of some Australian centres where police have the powers to issue on-the-spot fines of AUS$550 to any member of the public being a nuisance on a licensed premise.

"People would soon get the message that it's not OK to act like a Muppet on a licensed premise," she said.

"Because at the moment, the only one that gets pinged for bad public behaviour is the licensee and the managers, the public walks away with nothing.

"We feel like we're beating our heads up against a brick wall."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 24 May 2017 23:33:49 Processing Time: 617ms