More council powers on booze

By John Maslin

The Wanganui District Council will be getting much broader powers under changes included in the Alcohol Reform Act 2010 which is now in force.

And under the terms of the legislation it will be able to decline a licence if it believes it is not in the community good.

The changes were outlined to the WDC community and environment committee by Stuart Hylton, council's senior policy adviser.

Mr Hylton said while the new Act retained many elements of the previous legislation, there were some changes that would have a significant impact on the way local authorities administered liquor licensing functions.

"It means a significant devolution of power with responsibility shifting to the council," he said.

The council will handle liquor licences and if any of their decisions were appealed then they would be heard by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority in Wellington.

There will new district licensing committees and the local council may appoint councillors to those committees.

Mr Hylton said that there were four types of licence that can be provided, broadly the same as under the previous Act. These include on-premises licences, off-licences, club licences and special licences.

But the Act has changed the law on the type of stores eligible for an off-licence to "strengthen the current approach that dairies and convenience stores are not eligible".

And while grocery stores can apply for a licence, the licensing authority will consider such things as sales revenue, the range of goods sold in that store, its size, layout and appearance.

Mr Hylton said a key element the licensing authority must consider when granting a licence is what impact it may have on the "good order" of the locality. These cover such things as future noise levels, nuisance and vandalism.

Another option for the council to consider is adopting a "local alcohol policy" and with these the council can look at issues such as concentration, location and hours of trade.

"It may also include a one-way door restriction so that after a certain time no one is admitted or readmitted into those premises."

He said all these options can be developed in consultation with stakeholders and the community.

The new criteria come into effect on June 19 this year.

Mr Hylton said he suspected there may be a rush on licence applications before then but said they would only be temporary licences that would expire in 12 months' time and then be up for renewal.

Councillor Ron Vinsen said he was concerned this was another example of central government pushing more work on to local government "and the ratepayers will have to pay".

"It's not the law that's the problem. It's the attitude and social habits in our country that's the problem when it comes to alcohol," Mr Vinsen said.

And he said he believed this would end up costing the Wanganui council thousands of dollars to administer.

But councillors Jack Bullock and Allan Anderson welcomed the changes,

Mr Bullock said it gave more power to council to set the boundaries and accept some social responsibility.

Mr Anderson said making improvements often meant carrying a cost.

"But this is not a dollar thing. It's a social reform and we will control our destiny," he said.

Other major changes promoted with the new Act will see a widening of the definition of "public place" which would affect future liquor bans.

This would include car parks, school grounds and other private spaces to which the public has access.

These provisions will also come into force on December 19.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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