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Community will have greater say in local alcohol issues

George Wood is a North Shore ward councillor on the new Auckland Council. The former three-term mayor of North Shore City lives in Forrest Hill with wife Myra.

At last there are positive signs of good improvements occurring in the major problem of alcohol misuse across the Auckland region. It has been great to be part of the process of working towards future improvements in how we as both individuals and as communities handle alcohol.

One of my tasks this term of Auckland Council has been to chair the Working Party set up to implement the new Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.
My experience with the sale and supply of alcohol is many and varied. During my 32 years in the New Zealand Police I saw first-hand the negative impacts that cause so many individuals and their families to suffer from over indulgence in alcoholic drink.
It is clear to me that as a society we are on the upward cycle in a positive way in our attitudes towards responsible drinking and hopefully this will bode well for the future.
I clearly remember, as a 19 year old newbie police officer in the mid-1960s, being subjected to the notorious six o’clock swill. The then law required drinkers to stop their purchases at 6.00 pm and to vacate the premises 15 minutes later.
Fortunately New Zealand did relax our drinking laws from the limited hours that our hotels were opened, especially in the evenings. These changes happened first in 1967 with the advent of the 10 o’clock closing.
The North Shore changed in quick succession from only having around six licensed premises between Devonport and Albany to hotels, taverns, cafes, bars and nightclubs in every suburb.
Nowadays we have beer and wine sold in supermarkets and bottles stores dotted right through the North Shore community. The hours that licensed premises were allowed to stay open got more and more extensive and permissive. Today it is now very common for bars and nightclubs to have 24 hour licences.
Where do we go to now: The issuing and renewal of licences is now the responsibility of Auckland Council with District Licensing Committees now being set up to make the local decisions. There will now be the ability of local communities to have their views taken into consideration when decisions are being made on the granting or otherwise of licences.
It will now be a far more relaxed process as far as the first stage hearings are concerned. Hearings of the three person District Licensing Committees are set up to clearly allow good dialogue with all parties.
All liquor outlets will be required to adhere to the default maximum trading hours when the new act trading hours take effect on 18 December next year. These hours can only be changed when Auckland Council gets a Local Alcohol Policy in place. Until that time the default hours will be:

  • On licence holders like hotels, taverns, licensed restaurants and nightclubs will be 8 am one day through to the 4 am the following morning; and
  • Off licences held by supermarkets, bottle stores and dairies will be 7am to 11 pm.

Auckland council will have the ability, under the new law, to vary these maximum hours. This means the hours could be different from one area of Auckland to another or they could be uniform across the region but with either shorter or longer maximum times.
We will be reporting the findings of the working party to the committee of Auckland Council that I chair, Community Safety Forum, in August setting out views and ideas as to variations to these maximum hours. We will also be advising the Council on whether we see any benefits in the application of One-Way-Door policies in the Auckland region.
Once the Council decides on a draft Local Alcohol Policy it will then be the subject of community consultation. At this stage we are hopeful of getting the new policy in place in the second half of 2014.

by George Wood