A man who wants to set up an on-demand alcohol delivery business in Rotorua is stuck in limbo as Covid-19 means he cannot progress a liquor licence.
Ankush Konde owns and operates Deliver Eats in the city and wants to expand it to include 'Boozy', which would allow people to have liquor delivered to their door in about 30 minutes.
He applied to Rotorua Lakes Council for a liquor licence at the beginning of October last year. After meeting with him, the police submitted a report on his application.
As part of the liquor licensing process, police and medical officers of health must inquire into applications and may provide reports on a licence application to an independent inspector who reports back to licensing committees.
Konde met with Toi Te Ora Public Health but nearly five months on, he said a report had not been submitted and the council's district licensing committee could not make a decision on the liquor licence until it had - and it's completely legal due to temporary laws in place due to the pandemic, including an immediate modification order (IMO).
In effect, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for Konde's liquor licence application and therefore his new business.
Konde said he had invested $20,000 in the business so far and just wanted a yes or a no from Toi Te Ora.
"How long do we have to wait?"
Toi Te Ora medical officer of health Dr Neil De Wet said the organisation was "currently making inquiries" into Konde's application.
"The Immediate Modification Order 2020 is in force to recognise that available public health capacity must allow prioritisation of the pandemic response. Therefore, it allows longer timeframes for reporting on alcohol licence applications."
He said he expected to report on the application by the current deadline of May 6.
Toi Te Ora - which covers the entire Bay of Plenty - received a total of 1563 alcohol licensing applications from January to December last year, opposing 20. Of those applications, the organisation was still working on 49.
Konde said he had employed a duty manager for the Boozy operation but that person had left the job because he did not see a "future" in it due to the delay.
Once operational, he expected to employ about four people on a part-time basis to begin with.
"The basic idea is that people at home can get their alcohol delivered straight to their door. Once they place the order, our delivery driver will go pick it up and drop it to the customer, a driver will verify the IDs and ... all that.
"It's been more than five months, we're still waiting for the licence. Nothing is happening in the background.
"When you can get a firearm delivered to your doorstep … why can't we have liquor? Because in the liquor delivery, we are not opening any extra liquor stores or retailing anything. We are just delivering what we have existing in Rotorua. We're just trying to deliver from the liquor store to the customers.
"How long do we have to wait? I thought … it should not be any problem. You can't just do the research for six months. If [they're] not happy, just give us a no … but [they're] not saying yes or no, so there's no rejection. Everything has stopped."
Konde said if there were further delays or if his application was declined he would likely establish his business in Hamilton, where he believed he would be able to attain a license.
A council spokeswoman said the council had received 174 liquor licenses applications since the first epidemic notice was put in place. Of those, the medical officer of health reported on 155 of those applications.
"While others have experienced delays under the IMO, Mr Konde's application is the only one currently experiencing a delay of this length."
The spokeswoman confirmed off-licence applications require reports from the police and the medical officer of health.
The council was also asked if Konde moving his business to Hamilton would be an ideal outcome.
In an email to Konde, council community and regulatory services manager Kurt Williams said the IMO meant "the clock has not yet started ticking for the reporting agencies".
"The district licensing committee has no visibility over when the IMO may be lifted and simply needs to wait and see."
Williams said the council would update Konde as soon as the application process was under way again.
"I appreciate this is a frustrating situation for you," he said.
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting, Williams reiterated that the council understood Konde's frustration and the "potential impact for his business" but could not influence timeframes set by legislation and respected the independence of the committee and reporting agencies.
In a letter to Konde, district licensing committee chairwoman Karen Hunt said she also understood his frustration but the committee relied on the independent nature of the reporting agencies and had to allow the additional time for them to report.
"Until such time as all reports have been received, the inspector is unable to complete their report and refer to the district licensing committee for a final decision.
"I regret to inform you there is nothing further that the … committee can do to expedite this process."
Hunt told Local Democracy Reporting the application would be considered and a decision made "as quickly as possible" once all reports had been received.
Via the council communications team, mayor Steve Chadwick declined to comment.
In June 2020, an Infometrics report commissioned by the council estimated 3700 jobs would be lost in the district due to Covid-19, resulting in $186 million in lost earnings.
Similar on-demand alcohol delivery services operate in other areas of the country. In Auckland, DeliverEasy has a licence to deliver alcohol, and in Hamilton, Brewbound provides a service.
Further south, in Wellington, Wairarapa, Porirua and Kāpiti, Cheers Club delivers alcohol on-demand to home addresses.
The police were approached for comment.
Covid-19 and liquor licensing
On March 25, 2020, the government issued its first Epidemic Preparedness (Covid-19) Notice.
The notice expires three months after it is issued unless the government issues and expiry notice earlier.
The notice can also be renewed for a further three months.
It has been continually renewed and is next due to expire on March 23, 2021.
On April 16, 2020, due to Covid-19, the Government made a temporary law change to change the requirements for liquor licence applications in the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.
The effect of that law change, called an immediate modification order (IMO), is that medical officers of health have until 30 days after the epidemic notice is lifted to file reports.