Cut bottle store hours, reduce offending?

Hospitality NZ says there's no evidence to suggest limiting the hours Auckland bottle stores can sell booze will have any effect in reducing alcohol-related harm.

But Alcohol Healthwatch says the evidence is clear – reduce the availability, and the problems will go away; or at least be significantly dampened.

Auckland Council yesterday voted to limit bottle stores' opening hours to between 9am and 9pm, and force some bars to close at 1am. There will also be a two-year moratorium on new liquor off-licenses in some suburbs.

The policy is likely to come into force by Christmas.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams says studies show rates of assault, domestic violence and drink driving are linked to the concentration of liquor outlets.

After new laws restricting how early into the morning bars could open came into force in 2013, police recorded a 22 percent drop in disorder and violent assaults.

"It had a marked impact, immediate impact," Ms Williams said on TV3's Paul Henry programme this morning.

"We've also seen quite an impact on [drink driving rates]. Subtle changes like an hour here, or a few hours there, can make a massive difference."

That was bars, but she says the same logic applies to off-licenses.

"Those people that are causing the problem are buying alcohol to top-up before they go into the city. They're being able to top-up and top-up, and pre-load and side-load, until they get into the city.

"So not being able to purchase from off-licence premises, they can't make those opportunistic purchases, they can't go on into the city and cause problems."

Hospitality NZ chief executive Bruce Robertson says "you can do a lot with statistics" and doesn't believe the new policy will have any effect whatsoever.

"Rebecca's relying on the old availability theory that if you reduce the availability, you reduce harm. The reality is back in the late '80s when we increased the number of liquor outlets by three times, we actually saw a reduction in the per-head consumption of alcohol. We just don't accept that."

He credits the 2013 drop in late-night crime down to an increased police presence, rather than bars closing earlier.

"It won't make any difference to alcohol consumption at all. The issue is actually our drinking culture."

Veteran pub owner Maurice Hayes doesn't like the council's new policy, but disagrees with Mr Robertson about the impact it'll have on off-licenses, such as the one he runs alongside his Papakura pub, the Whitehouse Tavern. He says last time off-licenses had their hours cut, his sales dropped by 28 percent.

"They can only have a couple of drinks on the premises now because of the reduced drink-drive [limit], so they come in, have a couple of drinks, watch some football, and then they want to take some beer home – they can't buy it on the premise after nine o'clock," he told RadioLIVE.

"The Government have researched all these things, and these people have gone and spent a fortune on all this reporting and that, thinking that they know better than the Government knows themselves."

But it was the Government that gave councils the power to set their own alcohol policies. Hospitality NZ says this has created another problem – everywhere you go in the country has different rules and opening hours.

"In the Hutt, they've decided that supermarkets can trade until 11 o'clock, whereas bottleshops can only trade until nine o'clock. It's those sorts of inconsistencies… that are giving us real concern."

"Whether it is consistent or inconsistent, that is what the community asked for," says Ms Williams. "The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act only gave councils the opportunity to affect the licencing side of things. That's the only thing they can do."

At the end of the day, Ms Williams says there are still 84 hours every week that Aucklanders can buy alcohol.

Hospitality NZ is considering an appeal against the plan, as are Progressive and Foodstuffs.

3 News

source: newshub archive