Thursday, 12 December 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Whitianga Hotel liquor licence decision “like a bucket of cold water”

In a decision released on Monday, 30 September the Thames-Coromandel District Licencing Committee (DLC) refused to grant a new liquor licence to The Whitianga Hotel in Blacksmith Lane. “The decision was like a bucket of cold water, totally unexpected,” says Tony Dowse, who owns The Whitianga Hotel, and neighbouring Salt Restaurant and Bar with his wife, Lisa.

Tony and Lisa bought The Whitianga Hotel and Salt in July 2017. In March this year, they applied (through their company, Honorbrook Inns Limited) for a variation of their liquor licence, which covered both The Whitianga Hotel and Salt, to apply to Salt only and a new tavern-style licence to be granted to the hotel. “The reason we decided to, in essence, ‘split’ our licence was to spread the responsibility of complying with our sale and supply of liquor obligations across more than one manager and to not burden a single person with all the responsibility,” says Tony.

No objections from the public were lodged against either of the applications, but the Police and the Thames-Coromandel Licencing Inspector opposed a new licence being granted to The Whitianga Hotel. The variation of Tony and Lisa’s existing licence was granted to Salt without issue.

“When we bought The Whitianga Hotel and Salt, we took over a significant amount of problems,” says Tony. “Through a very steep learning curve, we’ve done our utmost best to get on top of things and meet our legal obligations as best as we could, and from March this year, things have been going well.”

In a hearing that was held in Whitianga on Tuesday, 17 September, Sergeant Andrew Morrison of the Whitianga Police admitted that the hotel “performed better” since March. He also referred to enforcement taken against the hotel for breach of the Easter trading laws during 2018 and two drink driving offences he linked to patrons of the hotel. In both instances, the offenders’ breath alcohol levels indicated a high level of intoxication and, in his experience, they would have displayed clear signs of intoxication while in the hotel.

However, according to Sergeant Morrison, two incidents “impugned” the “progress” Tony and Lisa, and their staff have made since March. The first was on Saturday, 7 September when an off-duty police officer observed “quite” and “very” intoxicated patrons in the hotel, without any attempts from staff to talk to them or remove them from the premises. The second was an assault that took place across the road from the hotel on Sunday, 8 September, where both the perpetrator and the victim had been in the hotel.

In their decision, the DLC found that Tony and Lisa (through Honorbrook Inns Limited) were unsuitable to hold a tavern-style licence and “on balance” that the “…amenity and good order of the locality of [The Whitianga Hotel] would be reduced by more than a minor extent if [they] were to grant [the] licence.”

In a clarification of their decision issued on Monday, 7 October, the DLC said they were allowing The Whitianga Hotel to continue to sell and supply alcohol until Saturday, 30 November, but only between the hours of 8:00am and 11:00pm and subject to other restrictions, including that “no shots are to be served at any time.”

Tony and Lisa are appealing the decision of the DLC to the national Alcohol Regulatory and Licencing Authority. They also intend to file a “stay” application that will allow them to trade both The Whitianga Hotel and Salt under their liquor licence that was in place before March this year until their appeal has been heard.

Among the points raised in Tony and Lisa’s appeal are the following -

  • They were given no recognition for their good work since March this year. The two incidents on 7 and 8 September appear to have cancelled their “credit ledger.”
  • The DLC didn’t take into account that the manager on duty in The Whitianga Hotel on 7 September were given a final warning for not dealing with all intoxicated patrons that day. The warning was given the following day when Tony and Lisa became aware of the manager’s inaction (after reviewing CCTV footage of the hotel, as they regularly do) and well before they were made aware of an off-duty Police officer observing the intoxicated patrons on the premises.
  • The DLC didn’t take into account that the perpetrator in the incident opposite The Whitianga Hotel on 8 September didn’t appear intoxicated while inside the hotel.

Tony and Lisa also said in their appeal that the Easter trading breach Sergeant Andrew Morrison referred to occurred in 2016, and not 2018, well before they became the owners of The Whitianga Hotel and Salt, and that “last drink surveys” taken from drink-driving offenders are notoriously unreliable.

“In addition, the DLC didn’t consider the impact of their decision on us as a family and on Whitianga as a whole,” says Tony. “In the hotel, we employ at least 23 staff members throughout the year and as many as 60 during the summer months. We pay more than $1 million in wages every year. If the hotel has to close down and we have to lay off our staff, that’s money that won’t be invested back into the local economy.

“There are two other tavern-style liquor licence holders in Whitianga. Between the two of them they can, maybe, accommodate 300 people. The Whitianga Hotel can accommodate between 600 and 700 people. Where are those people going to go over the busy Christmas/New Year’s period? Are they going to hang around in the streets? How’s that going to impact on Whitianga’s reputation as a popular holiday destination?

“Other business may also be affected. Some of the businesses in Whitianga is dependent on the hotel to do well. If we fail in our appeal, the closure of The Whitianga Hotel is going to have far-reaching consequences.”

Michelle Butler, the owner of Whiti City Cabs, agrees with Tony that The Whitianga Hotel is vital to the wellbeing of Whitianga as a whole. “We’re already seeing a drop in business now that the hotel is closing at 11:00pm every night,” she says. “If it closes completely, more businesses, especially in Blacksmith Lane, will be forced to let staff go.

“It can’t be argued that the Whitianga Hotel provides a reasonably controlled environment for people wanting to have a good time. If the hotel is no more, are we going to see more out-of-hand house parties and, as a result more alcohol-related harm in our neigbourhoods and in our streets? How’s that going to affect the workload of the local Police?”

According to statistics presented to the DLC when they heard on Monday, 16 September the application of Kaloti NZ Limited to operate a fifth bottle store in Whitianga, the number of drink-driving offences, Police call-outs to alcohol-related incidents and incidents of violence/disorder in public places or on licenced premises in Whitianga for 2018/2019 is down compared to 2017/2018. Tony says the effort they have been putting into The Whitianga Hotel may well have contributed to this decline.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.