Aucklanders could soon lose right to buy booze in supermarkets after 9pm

Buying booze in the supermarket or at the bottle store after 9pm could soon be a thing of the past in Auckland at least, after a Supreme Court ruling on Friday.

After an eight-year battle, supermarket giants Foodstuffs and Woolworths have unsuccessfully appealed Auckland Council's move to put a 9pm deadline on buying beer and wine in the city.

"I think it's a win for us, getting closer to what our communities have been asking for, which is more protection against alcohol harm," said Auckland Councillor Josephine Bartley.

For years Auckland Council has been trying to push through changes to its Local Alcohol policy.

It's been seeking to restrict the hours a store can sell alcohol from the current times of 7am to 11pm to a 9am to 9pm slot, but faced years of opposition from Woolworths which owns Countdown, and Foodstuffs brands New World and PAK'nSAVE.

"It seems like it's normal to buy a box of Cody's with the bread before the children go to school so that was the big push," Bartley told Newshub.

The Supreme Court has now agreed with an earlier ruling by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, saying there is "a reasonable likelihood it will reduce alcohol-related harm".

Alcohol Action NZ is applauding Friday's development.  

"I think it's fantastic news and it's been a long time coming. We would expect this change to reduce the impulsive sale of alcohol to people who are probably drinking already and to reduce ED admissions."

One Auckland bottle store owner, who didn't want to be identified, called the idea of an enforced earlier closing time "ridiculous, and a move to a nanny state".

A spokesperson for Countdown said it is reviewing the decision. 

"We've now received the judgement and are reviewing it. We look forward to continuing to work constructively with Auckland Council on their local alcohol policy."

Foodstuffs said it is "naturally disappointed by the result, but respectful of the decision made by the Supreme Court".

"We deliver a safe and responsible sale and supply of alcohol at all our licensed stores and the motivation behind appealing the decision has always been so our Auckland customers, who want to buy beer and wine, could have certainty around these products being available at the same time they do their supermarket shop. We acknowledge the clarity provided by the Supreme Court and we'll continue to focus on serving our local communities responsibly," said Emma Wooster of Foodstuffs.

Auckland Council stresses a number of complexities still have to be ironed out with the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority before late-night trips to the supermarket for wine are curtailed for good.

Other changes Auckland is still trying to push through include temporary freezes on issuing new off-licenses in areas overrun with bottle stores. 

"This is one tool the Council has, to protect our communities because the law doesn't do that," Councillor Bartley explained.

Woolworths and Foodstuffs have been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay $35,000 in costs.

Auckland Council and its ratepayers spent in excess of $1 million-plus to secure the win in court. 

But Bartley argues it's the social cost of saving lives from alcohol-related harm that's actually priceless.