22 Oct 2020

Council blunder means no liquor ban in city centre

6:11 pm on 22 October 2020

New Plymouth bar owners say they have noticed more unruly behaviour in the city since a council blunder meant the city's liquor ban is no longer enforceable.

Signs for the now-lapsed ban.

Signs for the now-lapsed ban. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

A Local Government Act amendment required all councils to review their alcohol control bylaws and if they didn't, they automatically expired in December 2018.

The council says its review "fell through the cracks" and it's "sorry for the slip-up".

The liquor ban was introduced in 2010 after the number of serious assaults in the city centre spiralled out of control - and there have been more attacks in recent weeks.

Crowded House Bar and Cafe co-owner Doc van Praagh said it was disappointing the ban had lapsed.

"Obviously someone has dropped the ball, but it's not great because we have there's people out on the street drinking across the road. Security are watching them drinking and the police can't do anything about it, you know. It's a bit of a major really."

Van Praagh said his security staff drew his attention to the problem.

"So that's when I rang the council about it and said 'do you know this is happening?' and they went 'oh yeah', so I think they've been a bit quiet about it, sheepish about it.

"And obviously there's been an up take and a bit of skulduggery going on in the CBD since that's happened and that's why we brought it in to tidy the place up and make everyone feel safe."

Crowded House co-owner Doc van Praagh.

Crowded House co-owner Doc van Praagh. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Across town David Stones, who owns three bars in the Puke Ariki precinct said he had noticed an uptick in the number of people drinking in town too.

"There is people out there drinking and there always has been and even with the liquor ban. There always will be. But unfortunately now that it's getting out there and people are aware of it [the lapsed bylaw] we can see that it is slowly picking up.

"But at the end of the day even with the liquor ban there's some scallywags out there that do it anyhow, let's be honest."

He was willing to forgive the council.

"The council's a big animal and they make mistakes as well. And this is just a simple mistake, but an important one they've slipped up on and I'm sure that the powers that be will get together and get it back on track because coming into summer, coming into December the police need it and us in the hospitality sector definitely need this liquor ban back in place."

People in the CBD had mixed views on the blunder.

Sean said he had been moved on by police in the past for drinking in the CBD.

"If I'd known I'd had the legal legs to stand on I would have caused a fuss."

Brendan Wright thought the council should have been more transparent about the issue.

"The public probably should be informed. I had no idea it had expired."

A woman who preferred not to give her name was willing give the council a break.

Co-owner of Icons, the Good Home and the Rooftop Bar David Stones

Co-owner of Icons, the Good Home and the Rooftop Bar David Stones Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"People make mistakes so as long as they fix it now. That's fine with me."

Christine was less sympathetic.

"I think they need to up their game."

Delane Campbell could sense an opportunity.

"Oh so that means we can drink in town. Old school."

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said the council had no option but to take it on the chin over the mishap.

"Clearly a mistake has been made and, look, we can go through an autopsy but the reality is when things go wrong it's just about what you do to fix it and can we do it quickly.

"That's the goal now to work with the community to see what they want us to do and if we need to put a new bylaw in, see if we can get it in before Christmas."

Asked why the public had not been informed of the lapsed bylaw, Holdom said that question was better directed at the council chief executive before drawing an analogy with another recently lapsed bylaw.

Neil Holdom.

Neil Holdom. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"Lets be clear, the skateboard [ban] lapsed. Did we go out and advertise that? No. We just figured that the community's sort of mature enough. That's great because actually I kinda like kids on skateboards. I think it's awesome and adults on skateboards. And as a society I think we've just matured."

Holdom said he would like to see a time when a liquor ban was unnecessary and it was perfectly acceptable to have a picnic with a glass of wine on the city's foreshore.

Police told RNZ that questions about how many people had been charged, fined or warned for being in breach of the bylaw - while it was not enforceable - would be treated as an Official Information Act request.

Police were also unable to say if any charges or fines would be withdrawn or refunded.

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