The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

Wellington bar owners fight opposition to their liquor licenses

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A group of Wellington bar owners have joined forces to tackle opposition to their liquor licences.

They have met with Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau discuss their view that the police, Te Whatu Ora, and Wellington City Council are consistently opposing new licences, preventing the hospitality sector from creating a social and safe space.

“They oppose our licence applications on grounds that are incorrect, misleading and trivial. They appeal justified decisions with petty reasons, to cost us money and time,” Epic Hospitality’s Greig Wilson, told the NZ Herald.

“They trawl through paperwork looking to cross rather than tick, they prowl streets looking for things wrong, not what can be made right.”

The group has also launched a campaign called “Courtenay Live” as part of a more concerted effort to fight the opposition, according to the NZ Herald.

The New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council (NZABC) says the bar owners’ plight exposes the interventionist approach of licensing agencies in New Zealand’s alcohol licensing regime.

“Recent publicity of Wellington Bar owners concerns over the litigious approach to alcohol licensing highlights widespread licensing problems faced by small businesses across New Zealand,” says NZABC Committee member and Brewers Association of NZ Executive Director, Dylan Firth.

“As a sector we support the message this group of Wellington business owners is presenting.”

Firth says while many regions in New Zealand have collaborative and reasonable interactions with their licensing agencies, a number of regions’ licensing agencies appear to have no regard for the desire of communities to have a vibrant city and rarely understand the investment realities of small businesses.

“And at the same time, they place unreasonable blame on well-run premises for wider social issues,” he says.

“There is little evidence that this type of approach improves community outcomes.”

Firth says NZABC whole heartedly supports the ability for communities to raise issues and concerns about licence-holders where the evidence exists to support these concerns.

“But increasingly, more and more unreasonable licence conditions are being required by licensing agencies onto on and off-premise businesses with little or no evidence they will make a difference to the reduction of alcohol related harm, as required by the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act,” he says.

“This type of pressure is happening across the country and includes measures such as setting a minimum price of beer and no sales of cask wine sales in off-licences, or the banning of specific brands.

“We believe this type of action is not only unlawful but also does nothing to reduce harmful drinking.”

Firth says wince 2010, the number of licences nationwide has declined by more than 23%.

“Research tells us that the vast majority of New Zealanders drink responsibly. New Zealanders are drinking 25% less now than they did in the late 1970s. Further, harmful drinking – particularly among younger drinkers – has also fallen.”

According to the NZABC, there is need for sensible evidence based approach to alcohol licencing.

“Good, experienced bar and off-licence businesses are facing ever increasing costs and restrictions.

“The industry was decimated by the pandemic and had been told it had the support of Government. The approach being taken by agencies sure doesn’t feel like it”.

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