Christchurch declared to the world that it had a bold new vision mid last year. It’s time to ‘transform Christchurch into an edgy 21st century city with a difference’. Edgy. That’ll be us moving forward says the Council.

Aside from the self-defeating nature of declaring yourself edgy, it was nice to see this. At least they were kind of doing something to temper the domination of the rebuild by pale male walking corpses.

But this was in stark contrast to the proposals being made to adjust Christchurch’s alcohol legislation. Anyone outside a small inner-city area would be unable to sell alcohol after 1am. Edgy.

The Final Provisional Local Alcohol Policy will introduce a range of other changes too. You won’t be able to buy booze at supermarkets or liquor stores after 10pm. One-way door policies will be imposed on a discretionary basis.

Canta LAP
CurrentFinal Provisional Local Alcohol Policy
7am-11pm off-license hours7am-10pm off-license hours.
3am on-licenses available in many areas, including Riccarton.3am licenses only available in certain areas of the central city.
1am licenses available in all other areas of Christchurch.
Victoria Street between Salisbury Street and Carlton Corner given a 3-year 3am grace period.
One-way door policies applied with discretion.
Casino and hotels exempt.Casino and hotels exempt.
[Old night club policy]4am Night-club licenses available if venue opens after 5pm and earns less than 70% of their revenue from food and booze.

The new policy will limit the hours of many current establishments outside 3am zone. It was venues in these areas that led the post-quake hospitality revival. The City Council applauds such establishments. In the same report that they announced their edge, they proudly noted that ‘vibrant nightlife precincts have emerged in Addington, Riccarton, Victoria Street and Merivale’. The new Policy will almost certainly lead to some of these venues closing, or at least becoming a little less vibrant.

Making it impossible for anyone in Christchurch to get a drink at 1:30am unless they mission it into the city is grievous in itself. A person living in Hornby or Lyttleton should be able to have a few late-night pints without incurring an offensively expensive taxi.

So who is leading the charge against late closing times? The usual suspects feature—The Police and the CDHB are sure to submit vociferously in opposition to anything and everything. Another force is that there isn’t much overlap between people who like to be on the lash at 3am and people who vote in local body elections; Councillors want to please their voter base.

Decrepit white retirees who have a fetish for seeing their names on page four of The Press also factor. Serial whingers Victoria Neighbourhood Association are especially noxious. Wowsers-in-chief Bob and Marjorie Manthei have dedicated their golden years to furiously NIMBYing, trying to ensure that no fun is had past their bedtime in what has emerged as perhaps the only alternative to St Asaph.

[Conflict of interest? See Decision 56]

Thankfully the Council has chosen to largely ignore the Association’s death rattles, changing the proposed policy so that much of Victoria Street will be in Area A (3am closing) and giving the rest (including The Carlton) a three-year 3am grace period before the 1am limit kicks in. Long live The Bog.

[This could be limited further—see Decision 43]

The Police, CDHB, and co. object on the usual grounds of reducing alcohol harm. We should, of course, expect these organisations to advocate for harm reduction. Alcohol-fuelled violence, crashes, and crime are a scourge. Likewise the pressure alcohol related medical incidents puts on the healthcare system.

But I am not at all convinced that the changes put forward in the Provisional Local Alcohol Policy will reduce alcohol related harm. New Zealand has a serious drinking culture, and it’s a little optimistic to think that making town a bit more shit will even make a dent.

Young people tend to be the biggest drinkers and the biggest dickheads. We drink more, fight more, crash more, get hospitalised more. But, overwhelmingly, this harm does not happen in town. It happens at house parties. While it’s a bit of a charade—‘Yeah just a couple of beers tonight mate’—the reality is that it’s harder to get seriously, dangerously blitzed when you’re heading out to town. Having a taccy in the Empire loos isn’t by any means rare, but it’s less common and less harmful than conking out in a bush at a flat party where no one can see you.

Establishments have their business on the line if they serve intoxicated people. Anyone approaching alcohol poisoning levels will be evicted and/or taken care of. Emergency services are nearby. Any fights in or near clubs will be dealt with quickly before they can escalate. Checkpoints abound, and taxis and Ubers are easier to get. Through bouncers, bartenders, and Police, town is a supervised place.

None of this applies for flat parties.

Young Cantabrians will drink—a lot—regardless of how good town is. What the quality and accessibility of late-night establishments does affect is whether people will get fairly fucked and go to town, or spend the night at flat parties and get dangerously fucked. Anyone serious about alcohol related harm reduction should be a strong advocate for vibrant, accessible, well-run, and fun nightlife. Providing an attractive alternative will reduce alcohol related harm.

Slashing people’s nights short will have negative consequences too.

Wednesday night at The Craic. A few hundred drunk people having an arguably good time. Two endings:

  • Option A: Lights on, everyone out. Now there are a couple hundred drunk people on Riccarton Road who are a bit pissed off that their night was cut short.
  • Option B: People keep singing and sifting until they want to leave. The crowd dribbles out and heads for Hunger Busters over a few hours.

The Police and the CDHB seem convinced that Option A is the better one here. This will almost certainly become a reality later this year. To me it sounds like a great way to fuel trouble.

From student and University perspectives, a quality and diverse nightlife is important. Not many of you reading this came to UC because of Christchurch’s renowned party scene. Being a more attractive student destination is incredibly beneficial for a university. If Christchurch was a more exciting place, then more people would want to study here.

The same applies for young people in general. Being a place where young professionals want to be is a boon to any city. Currently there’s a definite flight of graduates to Wellington and Auckland. The Council needs to make this an attractive place to live as a young professional. Part of that is a flourishing nightlife. Everyone wins when there are educated, energetic people to fill and create jobs.

There are plenty of other reasons to want a decent nightlife too. For one, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. A good night out on Courtenay or in the Octagon is fucking great, and restrictive alcohol policy is a statement that fun of that sort is not allowed. In many places around the world, nightlife is a central part of being a young person, and that’s something that the Council seems determined for us to miss out on.

Letting residents have a good time is a mandate of all councils. It can often seem, however, that young people serve as second class citizens in this respect. Certain kinds of fun for certain kinds of people. Yes, we should have family friendly events all around the city. But a 2am pint in Addington? Outrageous. Glassy retail quadrants, not clubs. Vegetable markets, not raves.

It makes sense that boring old white people’s interests are salient in the rebuild. These are the people that have the influence, the money, the power. Take a look at the people in charge of the rebuild, and you’ll see a trend. Politicians, public servants, investors, business leaders—all old, usually white and male too.

This is justified—the old bit that is—we want people with experience in charge. But the unavoidable side effect of this is that young people’s interests will be overlooked. Stronger efforts must be made to enfranchise young people in the rebuild process, to hear and act on what they want. Restrictive alcohol policy is only one part of this lack of meaningful consultation. If the process isn’t fixed, then our city will be filled with sanitised street art and stale bars.