It could soon be harder to get a drink late at night in Auckland.
The council is proposing to cut the hours people can buy alcohol at bottle stores and supermarkets from 11pm to 10pm and the time it can be sold in central-city bars, pubs and restaurants from 4am to 3am. On-licence sales in other parts of the city, including Newmarket and Parnell, would be cut from 4am to 1am.
The council will decide tomorrow if the draft policy should go out for public consultation.
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The plan aims to reduce alcohol-related harm and early-morning incidents, but has already met with criticism.
Hospitality Association Auckland president Kevin Schwass said the changes would be a massive step backwards for the city.
"They are trying to close us down. The 3am closing in the CBD and Newton and Ponsonby and 1am everywhere else is a massive step backwards - it's draconian.
"If they are talking about Auckland being the most liveable city in the world, it's a joke."
Mr Schwass said downtown problems were caused by drinkers "preloading" - buying liquor at retail outlets and drinking at home or in the car before going out to a bar or club.
The city's proposal follows sweeping new measures in last year's Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, which forced bars - some of which used to open 24/7 - to close at 4am, and also allowed councils to develop their own alcohol policies.
Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer says the Super City's policy has taken a more restrictive approach to standard CBD hours than Wellington's draft policy, which allows 5am closing.
"This policy will make a joke of council's latest marketing campaign that promotes Auckland as 'the show that never stops'."
However, council strategy and policy committee chairman George Wood said the plan aimed to strike a balance between alcohol-related harm and the desire to have a vibrant and healthy entertainment scene for residents and visitors to enjoy.
He said the planned 3am closing time in the central city was at the urging of the police, the medical officer of health and licensing inspectors.
"There is evidence that in Auckland, incidents of alcohol-related crime and hospital admissions peak at 3am.
"It is not a pretty sight to see our young citizens inebriated and unable to look after themselves and having no way of getting home."
The city is proposing a two-year freeze on new off-licences in areas where there are already a lot and allows for "best practice" bar operators to apply for two-hour extensions to their licences.
Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said local policies should be a perfect opportunity to cut trading hours and control the number and location of liquor outlets.
The Auckland version was one of the stronger polices she had seen in response to community concerns about harm caused by drunkenness. But it offered a conflicting measure, too, by offering the extension.
"The CBD has good operators but there is still alcohol harm, so it's extended hours that is the problem."
Retailers Association spokeswoman Louise Evans McDonald said the proposed changes to off-licence sales would be more restrictive on customers. She felt the current off-licence hours already offered options to address any concerns about stores.
Police - who have been quoted frequently as saying "nothing good happens in the central city after 3am" - weren't available for comment but had asked for CBD bars to be banned from letting anyone in after 1am, when the non-CBD bars would close.
It followed concerns that people driving to the CBD after their local closes for the night would lead to greater drunken disorder, violence and road crashes. The request was not included in the proposal.
The Herald spoke yesterday to staff at the Shakespeare hotel in the CBD who said a lot of people were still out between 3am and 4am.
"We have the pokies - that's still very busy, we have to kick people out of there - and we get a lot of hospitality staff who finish work at 2am or 3am. They come here for a few drinks to wind down," said duty manager Gemma Pearce.
In Newmarket, most bars already close around midnight so they won't be affected by the proposed changes.
However, the Doolan Brothers pub stays open later in winter and manager Grainne Garry said it would prefer to continue to if patrons wanted it.
- additional reporting: Martin Johnston