By CHRIS DANIELS consumer reporter

Auckland's liquor licensing trusts have been described as "three deserts surrounded by an oasis" to a parliamentary select committee.

Licensing consultant Graeme Scott told the commerce committee, which is considering changes to the running of trusts, that there should be a level playing field.

He said it was unfair that licensing trusts in West Auckland and Birkenhead were able to shut out others who wanted to run bars.

The committee, meeting in Henderson yesterday, also heard from West Auckland Trust Services, which provides management services to the Portage, Birkenhead and Waitakere licensing trusts.

Chief executive Murray Spearman said the trusts opposed the changes, which would scrap New Zealand's last seven local monopolies by legal fiat.

Trusts returned a great deal of money to the public and any attempt to reduce or remove the value of such a substantial community-owned asset without a local vote was "arrogant and patronising."

Auckland Regional councillor Carl Harding, who owns The Thirsty Rooster restaurant and bar, said the Waitakere trust was responsible for "some of the worst drinking holes in New Zealand."

The worst image of "Westie" culture came from such establishments, run by people with "a public bar mentality."

The law said that he could not be a publican in West Auckland, but had to be a restaurateur. His liquor licence was at risk of cancellation because of the trust.

Barry Waterton, who ran the Korner Restaurant in Kelston before it was closed, said standards in the Portage Trust area had dropped in recent years. After 33 years in the liquor industry, he had been shut down by the trust.

The Auckland and Waitakere City Councils made submissions opposing the changes, while supermarket interests said they supported them as surveys they had commissioned had shown most people did not want trusts.