Dunedin alcohol policy appealed

By Chris Morris

The policy was signed off by councillors in June last year. Photo / 123rf
The policy was signed off by councillors in June last year. Photo / 123rf

The Dunedin City Council faces a potentially protracted legal battle as New Zealand's supermarket giants join forces to fight the city's local alcohol policy.

Progressive Enterprises and Foodstuffs are among eight parties - including the New Zealand Police - to appeal the DCC's provisional local alcohol policy.

The appeals mean the council's policy remains in limbo and changes to curb alcohol-related harm are stalled, more than a year after the initiatives were signed off by councillors.

Mayor Dave Cull criticised the supermarkets' opposition yesterday, telling the Otago Daily Times they were "putting their profit ahead of the wellbeing of the community".

"These are large corporates saying 'we don't really care what the community thinks, or the harm being done to it'," he said.

But the council had refused to enter mediation, instead preferring to "defend its decision on the [policy] in full", council customer and regulatory services group manager Adrian Blair said.

The appeals would be heard by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (Arla), possibly as soon as next month, but they could then be taken to the High Court by the supermarkets if they lost, it was predicted.

Mr Blair, who would not be interviewed, would also not be drawn on the likely cost of a protracted legal battle.

Both supermarket chains declined to comment ahead of the Arla hearing.

Dunedin District Licensing Authority chairman Colin Weatherall said the delayed policy was "hugely frustrating".

The appeals would cost the council in "time and effort" and the legal fees needed to defend the policy, especially if it went to the High Court, he said.

The policy was signed off by councillors in June last year, following extended debate and community consultation.

Its new rules included a 2.30am one-way door policy and 3am closing for most inner-city bars, except "genuine" live entertainment venues, which could remain open until 4am.

Supermarkets and other off-licence retailers would have their alcohol hours cut from 7am-11pm to 9am-9pm.

The four major parties to appeal were joined by Super Liquor Holdings Ltd, Independent Liquor (NZ) Ltd and its subsidiary, The Mill Retail Holdings Ltd, and Dunedin Hospitality Ltd, owner of Mac's Brew Bar.

Foodstuffs, in its appeal document, said the council's policy was based on "a complete lack of local evidence" of alcohol-related harm from off-licence purchases made during the 7am-9am or 9pm-11pm slots.

Tighter restrictions would be a "disproportionate" response that penalised responsible shoppers, it said.

"Highly motivated purchasers who consume alcohol will adjust their purchasing patterns, not their consumption."

Hospitality New Zealand said reduced hours for residential pubs would "significantly" affect five Dunedin venues, while police worried entertainment venues could act as a "honey pot" for revellers.

The Mill went further, arguing there was "no probative evidence that harm is being caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol in Dunedin".

Mr Cull scoffed at that yesterday, questioning "what planet they're on".

"They would say so, wouldn't they, but they are flying in the face of reality."

Earlier this week, University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne compared efforts to tackle alcohol problems, which cost the institution $2.4 million a year, to "bailing out the Titanic with a thimble".

National Addiction Centre director Prof Doug Sellman said 40 years of research clearly established the link between access to alcohol and alcohol-related harm.

"The alcohol industry has very deep pockets to employ the best lawyers available to think up these type of reasonable-sounding arguments, which stymie the efforts of councils to do what is right for the health and wellbeing of the community they serve."

- Otago Daily Times

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