Summer 2002 Issue 35

News & Views

Special Edition: Healthy Public Policy in Local Government

The Newsletter of Alcohol Healthwatch

School Outrage at Licensing Laws

The principal of an Auckland college that suddenly found itself with a liquor outlet outside its gate said he was concerned that so little community consultation is required to open a licensed premise.

“We are very concerned about this store a few metres from our front gate,” says principal Brian O’Connell. “We are monitoring the situation and will be appealing the licence when it comes up for renewal next year. There appears little else we can do. I have written to the Auckland City Council and they have written a conciliatory letter, but the process concerns me somewhat.”

“A college which found itself in the news when a liquor outlet opened nearby highlights the powerlessness of the public to oppose such activities, even metres from the school gate.”

The off-licence concerned is just across the road, 10 metres from the school gate. Staff are concerned that a nearby park will become a drinking area for students. O’Connell says he will be interested in submitting his concerns to the Council in the course of the development of their alcohol policy.

Nearby Kings College principal also thought it was highly inappropriate that the outlet was allowed go ahead.

Last year a similar case, where a bar sought to open near a South Auckland primary school, was brought before the Liquor Licensing Authority. At the time, Judge Gatley expressed support for schools, churches and hospitals having more say in the application process. “This Authority has recommended to Parliament that resource consents should be notified”, said Gatley, “Parliament has chosen not to act on our recommendations and it becomes increasingly frustrating when this situation arises”.

Councils Take Lead Role

A growing number of councils are accepting that they have a critical role to play in addressing residents’ concerns about the effects of alcohol on their communities. It is a role councils already play through the decisions they make about public spaces and facilities, through regulating liquor licensing and through supporting safer community councils. Taking a lead in promoting safer, healthier neighbourhoods in relation to the use of alcohol is a natural progression of this role and is in keeping with the purpose of local government under the new Local Government Bill.

Some councils believe their role in alcohol issues begins and ends with liquor licensing and that becoming involved in a community development approach to address alcohol-related issues falls outside their domain. Others, while they provide a good level of support for alcohol-related community initiatives and youth activities, do not have these integrated into a written plan. An increasing number of councils are creating well-developed policies that have significant potential not just to guide decision-making, but to positively affect the culture and safety of alcohol use in their communities.

Public Participation in Liquor Licensing

The objection process as it stands is not only confusing, but is next to useless in enabling the community to influence decisions in a way that is meaningful to them. Poor planning of legislation has left a gap between the Resource Management Act and the Sale of Liquor Act which renders the public powerless to influence the proliferation and inappropriate siting of licensed premises in their neighbourhoods.

Zoning is such that few liquor outlets require publicly notifiable resource consents to establish, a stage at which the public can object to physical issues such as noise and traffic effects. In the majority of cases, planning consent is a simple matter, slipping easily through to the application for a liquorlicence. If you are one of those lucky people with enough time to peruse the public notices in the local papers, you are able to legally object to one of the narrow criteria as set out in the Sale Of Liquor Act. These address matters such as hours of operation, the suitability of the applicant and their host responsibility programme, but not whether the proposed site is suitable for a liquor licence.

Options for remedying this situation are anything but immediate. Councils quake in horror at the mention of changes to District Plans. Sale of Liquor Act changes are a protracted business.

Legislation in comparable countries appear to pay more heed of public interest in the granting of licences. In Victoria, Australia, for example, an application for a liquor licence may be refused on the grounds that it would detract from, or be detrimental to, the amenity of the surrounding area.

Despite a legislative environment unfriendly to community participation, there is potential for policies to work towards improvement of this process. They can contain a plan to work towards better control of the density and location of liquor outlets by using district plan changes, by placing controls on offensive siting of liquor outlets near schools, preschools and marae, improving public notification systems and advocating for changes to the Sale of Liquor Act.

Dunedin and Wellington
- Policies in Action

Both Dunedin and Wellington have had comprehensive sale of liquor policies since 2000.

Dunedin’s policy focuses on the council’s attitude to and administration of the Sale of Liquor Act, guiding liquor licensing applications and renewals, hours of operation of licensed premises and enforcement.

It also contains a statement of its role, along with that of police and public health, in “increasing public awareness of the need for moderation in alcohol consumption.” Youth are identified as being a primary target for health promotion strategies; parents and other adults are secondary targets.

Kevin Meecham, Dunedin City Council liquor licensing coordinator and projects officer, says the main users of the policy are the District Licensing Agency (DLA), public health officers, police and licence applicants. He believes it has been very useful as an information document for those groups, and the process of licensing appears to be working well.

“Youth drinking is the main problem we have to deal with,” he says, “but down here we don’t see the 18-year-old purchase age as the real issue; it masks the deeper problem of a need for a change in the drinking culture.”

Dunedin’s policy encourages packaging liquor from off-licences in non glass containers after 10 pm. But, “glass in the streets is still a problem in student areas. Students buy their alcohol at three or four in the afternoon,” says Meecham.

Wellington’s Liquor Licensing Policy is similar to that of Dunedin, if not a little broader. Giselle Bareta of the Wellington DLA has been responsible for co-ordinating its implementation.

“This is essential otherwise the document sits on a shelf. It has to be a working document otherwise there’s no point having one. We’ve also had vital support from the Wellington Liquor Liaison Group.” The policy has been the focus of two controversial challenges before the Liquor Licensing Authority in relation to hours. (see below)

Bareta is currently co-ordinating a review of Wellington’s policy, which is a matter of “minor clarifications and enhancements”, mostly relating to offlicence trading hours.

“We have been able to lift the standard of premises operating past 3.00am by requiring applicants to meet certain criteria,” says Bareta. And for those licensees seeking to extend their trading hours, council will be recommending the addition of criteria for introducing safety audits. Speaking of enforcement, Bareta says,”We never have enough resources! Having said that, Wellington DLA is relatively well resourced compared with other councils. We have the assistance of city safety officers who are another set of eyes and ears for the police and the council.”

Dunedin’s policy is also under review. There are no plans at present to include wider issues in the policy. Suggested changes (before they are released for public consultation), will relate to the designation of off-licences, on-licence hours of opening and inclusion of council involvement in specific initiatives to promote a responsible attitude towards use of alcohol.

Young People and Alcohol Research Under Way

The Injury Prevention Research Centre, based at Auckland University, has begun a large research project involving councils, young people and alcohol-related harm.

The research aims to identify an effective strategy to assist local and national government in enhancing safer alcohol practices by young people in public spaces.

Researcher Greta Buchanan, with the support of Jacqui Fill and Cherie Lovell (IPRC Researchers) have just finished the enormous task of interviewing and collating survey data from all 74 district and city councils in New Zealand. They spoke with relevant representatives from each council, such as Liquor Licensing Inspectors, Safer Community Coordinators, Youth Council Advisors, and Chief Executives. From the collation of this data representative districts will be selected for more indepth interviews with youth and key informants. Greta Buchanan Project Manager - Alcohol Research Group
Greta Buchanan Project Manager - Alcohol Research Group

The survey looks at current involvement of councils with activities that have an impact on youth safety in public spaces, as well as assessing different perspectives on level of support for a range of strategies, for example: surveillance, alcohol forums, liquor bans and youth events.

The researchers are also aiming to determine what factors enable policy development in relation to safer alcohol use within public places and what are the barriers. Some of the impediments that have been identified so far relate to public opinion, lack of resources, “red tape,” general ignorance of alcohol-related problems, the difficulty of forging partnerships and views about councils’ role.

The survey follows on from a research project (published earlier this year by the Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit) into Young People, Alcohol and Safer Public Spaces. This report, focusing only on the Auckland region, consolidated a range of information on the relationship between young people’s drinking, alcohol-related violence and strategies for enhancing safety.

The National City Council Survey, which has been commissioned by ALAC, is intended to be completed by June next year.

Developing Alcohol Policy in Auckland
- it’s Catching!

Several councils in the Auckland region are currently involved in the challenging process of developing alcohol policies for their cities.

Manukau is leading the way, having released a draft of a wide-ranging “Strategy for Reducing Alcohol-Related Problems in Manukau” for public consultation several months ago. The strategy clearly demonstrates the council’s willingness to build on their regulatory role and take a lead in alcohol issues in the city.

The draft strategy is based around five “tools” to reduce alcohol-related problems. The tools broadly cover: liquor licensing (including applications, limits on hours and location, enforcement, public participation and host responsibility); the council’s responsibility in educational and community development initiatives; a commitment to facilitating interagency collaboration to resolve alcohol issues; a policy on use of liquor bans and bylaws; and a policy on management of advertising and sponsorship on council property.

“Draft strategy to reduce alcohol-related problems in Manukau

Brigitte de Ronde, senior environmental policy planner, talked to Alcohol Healthwatch about the process involved in the strategy’s formulation.

The council decided to embark on the strategy in response to increasing community concern about alcohol-related issues such as drinking in public spaces.

The project was undertaken largely by a team of three council staff: herself, a health and well-being planner, who was able to advise on social issues and the team leader of the District Licensing Agency.

“We didn’t encounter any particular difficulties in the development of the strategy,” said de Ronde, “Basically we looked at Wellington’s policy and added to it.” She said that they were all generally in agreement about the areas the strategy should cover, although there was some disagreement as to the value of education.

The main area de Ronde thinks the strategy has not been able to adequately address is the density of liquor outlets in Manukau.

“There’s no legal way to do this at present. Some feel it should be addressed through the district plan but I don’t think that would work.”

Far better, she thinks, would be for a clause from the old Sale Of Liquor Act 1962 to be inserted in the present law, whereby one of the criteria for assessing new licences was whether a new premise was “necessary or desirable”, and whether the demand was being “met but not stimulated”.

She thinks the Manukau Alcohol Forum proposed in the strategy could be a powerful body to advocate for such changes.

Manukau consulted widely over its draft strategy. A letter was sent to every licence holder about the strategy and meetings were held with industry representatives, health organisations and communities. In addition to being posted on the council website, 600 copies of the draft document itself were disseminated to community networks and other key stakeholders. Of 95 submissions received, many were from individuals and community organisations, some came from the industry and concerned mainly restrictions on hours, and a number of substantial submissions were received from public health organisations.

The major recommended changes that have come out of the consultation process are: that ID checks for under 25 year-olds become mandatory in all licensed premises; that a designation of “supervised’ or “restricted’ be applied to off-licences where the principle purpose is sale of liquor; that the effectiveness of the strategy be reviewed with a view to a future district plan change; and that the strategy include an application of the council’s responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi.

The submissions also identified matters for the proposed Manukau Alcohol Forum to consider. These included: how to increase public participation in licensing issues, the purchase age, strengthening the ID culture, and addressing premise density.

A final strategy, taking submissions into account, is intended for release by Christmas.

As for advice for councils undertaking the process, de Ronde has a few tips. She says: “don’t involve too many people, pick the right people, have good consultation and get it out there and get it commented on.”

Meanwhile, in Auckland City, the council’s Law and Order Committee has allocated $20,000 to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce alcoholrelated harm. Last year an independent scoping report was published which looked at the purpose and possible content of a comprehensive alcohol strategy for Auckland City. It concluded that “an alcohol strategy could contribute to the reduction of alcohol abuse, provided sufficient resources were devoted to the strategy’s implementation.” It recommended developing a crossorganisation alcohol strategy with the aim of demonstrating leadership of alcohol issues within the city. The city-wide strategy, which will be compiled by a contractor, will articulate and coordinate council’s response to alcohol-related problems, demonstrating how the council can form partnerships to meet this end. The strategy should be completed by mid 2003.

Waitakere City has also begun work on reviewing their sale of liquor policy, coordinated by senior analyst for social policy Annika Lane. A policy reference group has been formed and a draft policy will be released for initial consultation early next year.


Formulating a worthwhile policy on alcohol use within a district is no simple copy and paste operation. It will cause the council to confront some key issues. There will be inevitable conflicts of interest in their development. Healthy policies in relation to alcohol are often at odds with commercial interests, but local authorities must put population health and well-being before commercial interests.After all, healthy people make healthy economies and communities.

So, where to start? A vexing question for those that have undertaken it. An internally directed policy that largely clarifies and articulates practices in relation to the Sale of Liquor Act? Or a wider collection of policies that link to other strategies and initiatives, identifies partnerships to address broader alcohol-related issues, and outlines council’s role in supporting community development?

There may be a need to clarify terminology first. A policy is more of an internal document, a framework reflecting council ideology, guiding local decision making, outlining processes. A strategy is a plan of attack, a collection of policies and practices with an action plan component.

Whatever form the document takes, its aims and actions need to be transparent. They should be based on a solid information base of area-specific data that outlines the problems and provides a baseline from which to measure change. Data sources may include road safety data, pseudo-patron studies and controlled purchase operations, police incident data, submissions and public complaints.

There should also be a public face to the policy, which clearly informs the community about the liquor licensing process, how they can have input into this process and how they can contribute to monitoring.

Ideally the document will show how it ties in with other initiatives, for example a road safety strategy, youth strategy and with planning documents.

A sale of liquor policy needs to reflect community attitudes and expectations regarding the sale of liquor. Sound consultation during the process of its development is therefore essential. Where time and resources permit, a preliminary survey or series of focus groups could be held to determine public and industry attitudes to issues such as hours of operation and premise density and location.

Workable policies need considerable enforcement to back them up. When enforced, host responsibility requirements, for example, can be a powerful tool to influence the use of alcohol. At least one council has made it a condition of a licence to check IDs of all under 25-year-olds. The policy can identify creative ways the council can increase its enforcement effectiveness, for example, by including a commitment to use of last drink survey data and by establishing a mechanism for the reporting of problematic premises by the community and other agencies.

Community Development
As pivotal organisations in their community, councils need to find a balance in where they position themselves; probably where councils are facilitators, fosterers of coalitions, supporters (both financial and active) of inter-sectoral initiatives.

The need for these joint action plans can be clearly identified through councilfacilitated forums and locally collected data. The responses themselves must be wellfounded in evidence-based programmes, yet arise from the community. Councils also have an important role in raising community awareness about licensing issues.

A community-wide alcohol strategy ideally involves commitment to employing a health promoter, to co-ordinate the initiatives and the implementation of the strategy.

Ideally a council would include in its policy an advocacy role. Councils could have strong voices in creating long term changes by shaping alcohol-related legislation, including much needed changes to the Sale of Liquor Act.

An alcohol policy has so much potential. We must not be content with producing clones of the least inspiring of them so we can tick the box and add to the ever-growing mountain of documents.

Hours of Operation

A policy on hours of operation of licensed premises can be used to assist in community planning goals. The type of establishment the city is trying to encourage in various parts of the city, the community opinion about weekday hours as opposed to weekend, and issues associated with “migration” of drinkers to other areas, are some of the considerations.

The validity of Wellington’s policy in relation to hours has been challenged before the Liquor Licensing Authority (LLA) on two occasions.

In May 2001 applicants for an inner city Wellington on-licence sought to trade between the hours of 12 noon to 6am, and in March of this year, Woolworths sought 24-hour licences to sell liquor at two of their stores.

How do council liquor licensing policies stand in relation to the law? The Liquor Licensing Authority stated in a previous case, “We welcome and weigh the views of elected Local Authorities where these exist”. They said that greater weight would be placed on a policy which has been arrived at after public consultation. Such a policy provides “invaluable guidelines and assistance” to them, but “it is but one of a number of matters which we must take into account” and “it would of course be wrong for the Authority to fetter its discretion by treating the content of the Policy as a mandatory requirement or rule.”

In the first of the above instances, the LLA’s decision was in line with the policy view that extensions beyond the recommended hours (3am) would only be granted when the licensee proved to be a responsible manager.

In the second, the LLA over-ruled the policy and allowed a supermarket to sell liquor 24 hours, stating that the Wellington Liquor Licensing Policy had been “overtaken by events”, (referring to a previous decision which set a precedent for supermarkets), and that to do otherwise would be to “deprive ordinary shoppers of an option”.

Contacting Us:

Alcohol Healthwatch
P O Box 99 407
Newmarket, Auckland
Ph: (09) 520 7036
Fax: (09) 520 7175


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The Ministry of Health