22 Mar 2016

Bar lockouts 'destroy the culture of the CBD'

7:39 am on 22 March 2016

Venue and bar owners say a lock-out policy for central Auckland bars will not work, despite assault rates in Sydney dropping after a similar policy was introduced there.

line of drinks in a bar

Photo: RNZ / Megan Whelan

The police have again pressed for earlier closing times, after four large fights broke out in downtown Auckland early on Sunday morning.

New South Wales government brought in so-called lock-out laws two years ago, after a series of violent assaults - including two deaths - in Sydney's CBD and nightlife hub King's Cross.

In those areas, bars cannot let in any new patrons after 1.30am, and must close completely at 3am.

The law had its detractors, but the state's Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research said the numbers, at least, seemed to show it was having the desired effect.

Bureau director Don Weatherburn said staff compared the 15 months before the lock-out law with a similar period afterwards.

"We found substantial reductions in assault in the Sydney CBD - that was down by about 20 percent - and in the Kings Cross precinct, which came down by about 40 percent."

There was no corresponding increase in assault levels in neighbouring areas where the lock-out laws did not apply, Dr Weatherburn said.

There was already a downward trend in assaults before the law came into effect.

Dr Weatherburn said the law seemed to have accelerated that effect substantially, but it could have been for other reasons.

"A good many people regard the drop in assault as a consequence of the fact that no one comes to Kings Cross anymore, and there is significant evidence to back up that supposition."

Popular Ponsonby bar The Golden Dawn's general manager Nick Harrison said the Sydney law had "killed" King's Cross, and he worried a similar by-law would have the same effect in Auckland.

"It hurts businesses. People have to close down, and it will kind of destroy the culture of the CBD."

He was especially worried about the effect it could have on Auckland's live music scene.

The Golden Dawn already operated its own one-way door system from about 1am, but a blanket policy could make the city less safe, Mr Harrison said.

"By restricting access, we're generally going to leave more people out on the streets - and if there's more people out on the streets late at night, there's probably going to be an increase of incidents."

The fundamental problem was still New Zealand's drinking culture and more funding was needed for alcohol education, Mr Harrison said.

Proprieter of Karangahape Road venue Wine Cellar, Rohan Evans, agreed a lock-out policy or earlier closing times would simply result in people congregating in the streets.

The police seemed to be intractable, however.

"We have the alcohol accord and bars and clubs and security firms have open dialogues, and we have open dialogues with the council - but the police drive towards these one-way door things is unchanging and unresponsive."

The police had a pending appeal against Auckland Council's draft local alcohol policy, but Auckland mayor Len Brown told RNZ News yesterday he thought the current 4am closing time was right.

Sydney's lock-out laws were driven by the New South Wales state government.

New Zealand Police Minister Judith Collins seemed to have no interest in getting involved - her office said it was an operational matter and declined to comment.