Christchurch council takes first step towards stricter alcohol rules

The Christchurch City Council has voted to begin developing a local alcohol policy.

It comes a decade after the council embarked on a failed million-dollar attempt to introduce a local alcohol policy (LAP) in the city.

LAPs allow councils to impose stricter controls over the sale of alcohol.

The council abandoned its effort in 2017 following a judicial review of its provisional policy.

Law changes under the previous government and a Supreme Court decision largely backing Auckland’s plan had now paved the way forward for other councils.

But the hospitality sector had already signalled its opposition.

Halswell ward councillor Andrei Moore said local government had been handed a hospital pass by central government.

“I find it odd that central government puts so much responsibility on councils to address alcohol harm. They tend to have the guts to take on the alcohol lobby. They leave it to us to go through these expensive processes,” he said.

Staff told councillors developing an LAP might cost between $20,000 and $100,000.

Moore said central government should be taking the lead on such work.

“If the government did care about alcohol harm they’d probably take police resources out of trying to fight things like cannabis and actually put it into alcohol harm prevention. But they haven’t and they won’t.

“Of New Zealand’s 10,000 police officers, just 84 are alcohol harm prevention officers, and of those 84, only 37 are full-time.”

The hospitality sector, which opposed the council’s previous attempt to implement an LAP, remained opposed.

On Tuesday, police documents revealed alcohol harm accounted for $7.8 billion every year – compared to $1.8b for illegal drugs.

With those figures fresh in the minds of many Christchurch city councillors, they debated beginning work on the LAP.

The hospitality sector, which opposed the council’s previous attempt to implement an LAP, remained opposed.

Culture and Tonic director AJ McLellan-Minty told councillors more bureaucracy for bars would not reduce alcohol harm.

“Most adult New Zealanders are not harmful consumers of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a real and significant problem for a small minority of Kiwis,” she said.

One in five adult Cantabrians consumed alcohol in a way which could harm themselves.

McLellan-Minty said an LAP was unnecessary and costly, when other options for curbing harmful drinking were already available.

Hospitality New Zealand Christchurch representative Jeremy Stevens said while access to alcohol had increased over the past 35 years, consumption had fallen.

“Alcohol laws in New Zealand aim to reduce the harm caused by excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol, we believe that well-run, on-licence environments are the safest for people to consume alcohol in the country.”

The majority of councillors spoke about reducing the harm caused in the city, particularly by off-licence venues.

“Alcohol harm is real and it’s not just for those that choose to drink,” Heathcote ward councillor Sara Templeton said.

“Those suburbs that have a greater density of alcohol outlets than others do suffer greater alcohol harm,” Spreydon ward councillor Dr Melanie Coker said.

Burwood ward councillor Kelly Barber said “responsible owners have nothing to fear” from the implementation of an LAP.

The majority of councillors were keen to see if a local alcohol policy was a tool which could deployed against the social ills alcohol created.

Only councillors Sam MacDonald and Aaron Keown voted against the development of a Local Alcohol Policy. Moore abstained.

Keown said it was unlikely to apply pressure in the right areas.

“Everything you do there’ll be a whole lot of unintended consequences because there’s people that do want to harm themselves and if it’s not alcohol, they’re going to do it another way.”

Councillors voted to begin developing the policy and have staff report back by the end of the year.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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