Popular vote opposes earlier closing times for pubs; health groups support limiting hours
27 Feb 2020
Palmerston North bars and their patrons are kicking back against a city council proposal to bring closing time forward from 3am to 2am.
They say a trial of earlier closing in 2017 proved to be bad for business and it did no good in reducing alcohol harm.
However, other groups are begging the council to do anything it can to reduce problem drinking.
The proposal for 2am closing for central city bars is the most significant change the council has put forward in its draft Local Alcohol Policy.
Two-thirds of the submissions opposed earlier closing. Less than one in five supported it.
Long-serving city publican Ian McQueen, from The Brewers Apprentice, said the 2am closure trial did not directly affect the bar, which closes at that time anyway.
But it affected patronage, as people went directly to other bars rather than passing by Brewers.
Several Brewers' staff also made submissions that they missed being able to go out for a drink when they finished work at 2am.
Hospitality New Zealand said more people were already choosing to drink at home or unsupervised rather than in bars.
Spokesman Adam Parker said forcing a 2am closing time would make that situation worse, be bad for business and result in even greater alcohol harm.
Owner of Bubbles and The Fish Gary Wright said being a "guinea pig" in the 2017 early-closing trial had caused businesses to lose money.
"That failed and created a ghost town, with many losing jobs."
George Hospitality Group spokesman Ricky Quirk agreed the trial was a failure, causing more trouble on the streets when all the bars emptied out abruptly at 2am.
Matt Thomas, from The Celtic Inn, said there was no evidence earlier closing would discourage people pre-loading before coming to town.
Many said the council was looking in the wrong direction in targeting bars, and would be better to restrict the number, density and hours of off-licences that supplied the pre-loading habit.
Jazz Rawiri, from the Albert, said it was "so much easier to find an off-licence than an ATM" and bouncer Reuben Takaru said too many off-licences had "host responsibility standards as low as their prices".
Those supporting restrictions on opening hours include church-based group "Let the Children Live", MidCentral District Health Board's Public Health Service, The Health Promotion Agency, the Palmerston North Safety Advisory Board, The Cancer Society Manawatū Centre and Alcohol Healthwatch.
Submitter Bruce Thomson said the sale of alcohol should not be allowed at all.
The Safety Advisory Board submission was that business interests, public safety and public good had to be balanced.
It supported reduced trading hours, but said it was a narrow solution to a wider problem of excessive alcohol consumption.
Palmerston North is late among city and district councils to consider a Local Alcohol Policy, which provides guidance for district licensing committees in granting new liquor licences.
Several other local authorities have faced appeals and lengthy legal battles in their attempts to place local restrictions on alcohol sales.
The council's community development committee will debate the submissions on May 6.