The police and the Auckland Council are locked in a dispute about an hour. The police want city centre bars to close at 3am, the council wants them to stay open to 4am. The city's alcohol policy is under review and the police are not alone in wanting the licensed hours reduced.

Public health authorities agree, as probably do parents of the teenagers and those not much older who like to go into town late at night and can be seen spilling out of the bars in the small hours, drunk, vomiting, relieving themselves, hurling abuse, brawling and worse.

As the police have said, "Nothing good happens in the city after 2am." They would like suburban bars shut at 1am, and city bars to have a "one-way door" imposed from that time so that anyone who leaves a bar after 1am cannot enter another. And they want everybody out by 3am.

As our feature today reports, the council has a contrary view which bears consideration, too. The council argues the streets may be safer if drinkers are not tipped out of all bars at the same time.


That seems to echo the hospitality industry's contention that it is better to drink in a "a controlled environment" until 4am rather than being thrown out when they are still lively (if not making much sense) and not ready to go home.

At least nobody these days contends longer opening hours, even all-night licences, are important for the inner-city's glamour and sophistication. That was the belief that inspired ever more liberal liquor legislation in 1989 and 1999. Supposedly, the more readily available alcohol became the more mature our drinking culture would be.

Sadly, that theory died long ago, discredited by the plain evidence of teenage binge-drinking, and the scenes in urban centres after midnight. When Parliament next rewrote the law, in 2013, a bid to raise the drinking age from 18 to 20 narrowly failed. Next time it could well succeed. We are wiser now, not just from experience but from advances in knowledge about neurological development that tells us teenage minds mature later than we knew.

Individuals are not all alike, of course. The pity about reducing trading hours in response to those who have abused them is that responsible revellers can suffer, too. But are there any sensible, responsible young people sitting in city bars past 3am? Police and doctors in emergency wards deal with the damage to those who do.

The facts and figures are on their side. Even 3am may be generously late for civilised drinking but every hour counts. City bars would be left with ample trading hours under a 3am curfew and wonder why they ever opened late .