Race day booze licence scratched

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A lot of the crowd won't be enjoying a tipple at Dargaville Racing Club's spring meeting this year - if they turn up at all. PHOTO / Michael Cunningham.
A lot of the crowd won't be enjoying a tipple at Dargaville Racing Club's spring meeting this year - if they turn up at all. PHOTO / Michael Cunningham.

The unique Northland sporting, social and cultural fixture that is Dargaville Racing Club's spring meeting has failed to get its bring-your-own booze licence over the finish line.

The club's special licence application for Friday's race day was turned down by licensing authority Kaipara District Council, with back-up objections from Northland Police and Northland District Health Board.

Dargaville Racing Club president Tim Antonio described it as a devastating blow that could "stop us in our tracks".

As for whether Friday's meeting would still attract the club's trademark crowds, "all bets were off," Mr Antonio said.

Without a grandstand at the ground, racegoers traditionally make the most of the grassed bank and nearby parking.

The "car-boot bars", bums on blankets, barbecues, picnics and chilly bins have been a main attraction and a large part of the famous race day's atmosphere, Mr Antonio said.

"The picnic race day thing is unique to us. Our forte has been being able to attract people who might not usually go to a race meeting. People come here from all over the place, and many workplaces use it as a pre-Christmas social event."

Several of those groups have already pulled out because the annual hospitality arrangement based on the club's special licence has fallen through. Those withdrawals alone mean hundreds fewer racegoers on Friday compared to recent crowds, Mr Antonio said.

The failure to pass the booze test was due to the licence application not containing a BYO element, Kaipara District Council corporate service manager Peter Marshall said.

It was a technicality that could be corrected in future applications.

Kaipara District's new mayor Greg Gent said he was dismayed about the licensing matter and its possible impact.

"I'm working with the club and the police to try to help find a solution to this," Mr Gent said.

"Kaipara District Council staff acted totally within the law in this matter, as they must do, but does this decision pass the common sense test? No, it doesn't."

The club had licensed drinking areas - the president's and members' bar, Foxy's Bar in the old tote building and the Cowshed Bar - but had never been turned down before for a special licence to cover the rest of the site.

A past president of Whangarei Racing Club, John Fairley, described it as "a chronic example of political correctness gone mad".

"The Dargaville races are an iconic day in Northland's social calendar and regularly provides one of the highest on-course race crowds in all of New Zealand," Mr Fairley said.

"The race days, due to the minimal on-course buildings but with natural embankment surrounds, has developed into a 'boot party' with a very wide cross section of society in attendance."

Northland District Health Board's medical officer of health Clair Mills said Northland had high levels of alcohol related harm, including drunk driving, violence, foetal alcohol syndrome and contribution to cancers and heart disease.

The DHB initially opposed the club's application for a special licence due to an inadequate Alcohol Management Plan but withdrew its opposition when those concerns were addressed, Dr Mills said.

A Northland Police licensing officer was unavailable for comment.

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