The Far North District Licensing Committee has rejected an on-licence application by ER Bellas Ltd. for the Tuatua Tavern at Whatuwhiwhi.
The tavern has been closed since the licence expired late last year. Proprietor Eddie Bellas applied successfully for renewal, but that decision was overturned after an appeal by objectors to the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (ARLA).
Bellas subsequently appealed that decision to the High Court, unsuccessfully.
The committee was clearly not happy with the manner in which the tavern had operated under its previous licence, saying that despite the applicant's experience, and being given "opportunity after opportunity" to learn, adapt and reform, it was still "abundantly clear" that he had insufficient grasp of the responsibilities that went with holding a licence.
It was that "residual" concern that had not been addressed that had led the reporting agencies (the Northland Medical Officer of Health and the police) to continue to oppose the application.
The committee said the tests it applied had to go beyond technical compliance; any party could simply copy and paste a compliant schedule of policies.
"That the applicant could not or would not supply policies until pushed to do so, and then under examination could not provide the supporting information and detail that underpinned them, suggested to the committee that the applicant had not taken the matters raised in the (High Court) decision of Justice Gault to heart," it said.
"The committee considered evidence of past breaches and whether this was an indicator of risk... the committee noted that even after the previous hearing, where videos of non-compliance were provided, evidence that this behaviour continued was presented to ARLA during the first appeal hearing (the Far North District Council having recorded that the tavern had been investigated and sanctioned for patron intoxication outside the licensed area and for consuming alcohol bought there in the shared carpark).
"The committee were entitled to consider that Mr Bellas had taken adverse findings to heart and was making a conscientious decision to implement improved systems and processes to combat alcohol-related harm," it added.
"Unfortunately (he) opened with statements demonstrating his lack of acknowledgment of the matters of non-compliance, emphasising that evidence of past breaches had not resulted in a 'lessons learned mentality.'
"Rather, it reflected ongoing disregard for the authority of the district licensing committee, the Alcohol Regulatory Licensing Authority and the High Court...
"This was exacerbated by Mr Bellas stating that the video evidence had been exaggerated to paint the tavern in a bad light.
"Mr Bellas presents as an extremely confident individual (but) his directness in the hearing, which at times was challenging, could have been interpreted as having little regard for the legislative environment in which he operated his business," the decision continued.
"Notwithstanding his exemplary public service in his honorary roles as a volunteer in the Fire Service and Fisheries, Mr Bellas must apply the same rules to himself as would be expected of others.
"The fact that he took ownership of (staff) training but did not always attend himself, that he chaired the fortnightly meetings but was unaware of the content of the incident reports, and that (he) could not answer fundamental questions posed to him during the hearing, suggests non-committal compliance at best."
The tavern was a high-risk premises, requiring a higher degree of industry experience and training. Problems would arise from time to time, and it was critically important that "problem premises," with a history of non-compliance and difficult patrons, had a considerably higher standard of licensee experience, procedures, systems and policies to achieve compliance and to reduce alcohol-related harm.
The committee did not regard Bellas as possessing the high level of expertise and ownership required to meet the threshold.
He had not been able to answer questions regarding daily incident reports, management of CCTV images under the Privacy Act or implementation of the tavern's host responsibility policy, while his response in regard to the management of the car park demonstrated a failure to fully understand potential problems associated with the locality.
The committee ultimately found that the applicant was unable to satisfy that he had appropriate systems, staff and training in place to achieve compliance with the law.
A couple of options
Tuatua Tavern proprietor Eddie Bellas said yesterday that he had a "couple of options" for pursuing the renewal of his licence, but needed to discuss them with the appropriate people over coming days.
He did not plan to give up, he said, adding that the licensing committee's decision had left many in the Karikari community at a loss.