Cameron Brewer: Liquor policy leaves a sour taste

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Good operators and mums and dads doing morning shopping will be punished by council proposal.

Responsible drinkers will have their choices limited. Photo / Getty Images
Responsible drinkers will have their choices limited. Photo / Getty Images

Auckland Council's proposed Local Alcohol Policy hits responsible drinkers and operators, does not reflect the Auckland Plan, and will see a freeze on new wine shops in the central city and bars forced to close earlier than in Wellington.

This policy, if adopted, will see cordons go up around the alcohol section of every supermarket early in the morning and late at night. Annoying a lot of people, wine and beer will be roped off like in the old days when you couldn't buy alcohol from supermarkets on Sundays.

Mum and dad shoppers won't be able to buy wine or beer with their weekly groceries before 9am and after 10pm. It makes no sense, particularly the morning ban, and such a move will do little to deliver on the intention of the 2012 Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act which is all about minimising alcohol harm. These grocery shoppers are not the problem.

Wellington will be the biggest winner, with Auckland taking a much more restrictive approach to standard CBD hours and on- and off-licences generally.

This policy will make a joke of the council's marketing campaign that promotes Auckland as "the show that never stops". Central city standard maximum opening hours for on-licences will be shortened to 3am while Wellington's provisional policy is promoting 5am. I appreciate there's the possibility of extensions, but that only means more hurdles for the proven good operators who will be treated as guilty until they can prove their innocence.

What's more, the area that is defined as the Central City, or Broad Area A, is patently unfair. It includes Ponsonby but not the metropolitan centre of Newmarket or the hospitality precinct of Parnell. Both are deemed suburban and so their on-licences will have to close at 1 am. It makes no sense that much of the rest of Auckland outside the Central City has been lumped in together as Broad Area B, which dictates a 1am standard maximum closing.

This may be fine for smaller town and neighbourhood centres, but what about our metropolitan centres, identified in the Auckland Plan and draft Unitary Plan as places of real business growth, residential intensification and self-sufficiency?

I believe the likes of Newmarket and Takapuna should be given a break. They deserve a little more latitude than our villages but under this policy many of their hospitality businesses will see their existing hours restricted regardless of whether they have a great record, with the pain of then having to go through the process of applying for an extension. In the meantime this will only mean more local young people getting into cars and heading into the central city.

Champagne breakfasts at local bars to watch the likes of the Commonwealth Games and overseas All Blacks tests will become a lot harder with standard on-licence hours set at 9am, and there are doubts whether the council picking on these kinds of special events will reduce alcohol-related harm in society.

Another thing people need to be aware of is this policy puts a moratorium on all new off-licences in the central city for two years. None of us want more cheap and nasty bottle shops, but this blanket ban also means no new upmarket wine stores.

Having a two-year off-licence freeze also potentially reduces the value of a business overnight if it cannot be sold as a going concern - because the replacement business cannot be a liquor store. This is not being business-friendly as the council purports to be.

I believe the policy's blanket ban on new off-licences in the central city is not necessary because the act already has a requirement to evaluate in the granting or renewal of every licence the impact that licence will have on the amenity and good order of the locality and if it's more than minor it can be declined.

Under the new act, district licensing committees can more easily remove and restrict bad operators and deny new operators' licences without the council also imposing very blunt blanket restrictions and bans that will have a severe impact on responsible operators.

This policy is bad news for the bad operators and those adding to alcohol-related harm. However, unfortunately it's also bad news for the many really good businesses and responsible drinkers. Wellington promotes its policy as "the right mix" but sadly Auckland's yet to achieve that.

Cameron Brewer is an Auckland councillor.

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