Case for Change

Local Alcohol Policies offer a significant opportunity to reduce alcohol-related harm in your community. Policies which contain strong evidence-based measures to reduce the availability of alcohol can have positive, long-lasting effects.

This section highlights the evidence on the importance of reducing the availability of alcohol in your community.

Reducing the trading hours of licensed premises 

“When hours and days of sale are increased, consumption and harm increase and vice versa.”    Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity

In New Zealand, the trading hours of licensed premises are determined by the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

If a Local Council does not have a Local Alcohol Policy, then the default maximum national trading hours set out in the legislation will apply. 

The default MAXIMUM trading hours in New Zealand are:

  • On-licences and club licences – 8am to 4am
  • Off-licences – 7am to 11pm

These are maximum trading hours so it doesn’t mean that a premises will be granted these hours. Their licence will specify times that they are able to sell alcohol.

There are also special requirements relating to certain public holidays (e.g. Easter, Anzac Day).  Click here to read more. 

The trading hours of any licensed premises can be changed the following ways;

  • The Default Maximum National Trading Hours can only be changed by Parliament, through a law change / amendment to our current law.
  • Trading hours of types of premises (e.g. all on-licences, all off-licences) within local Council boundaries can be changed through a local Council developing and implementing a Local Alcohol Policy. 
  • The trading hours of an individual licensed premises can be influenced during the licence application or renewal processes. District Plans may also specify the trading hours permitted in a resource consent.

Closing Hours (on-licences)

Alcohol-related offending increases substantially for every hour a premises is open after midnight. Compared to licensed premises which close at 12am or earlier, a study in Australia [3] found that the expected rate of offending increased at the following rate:

Compared to premises which close before midnight The risk of offending is:
12:01 am and 1 am 1.6 times greater
1:01 am and 2 am 2.2 times greater
3:01 am and 5 am 8.9 times greater

A New Zealand study [4] found that drinkers who bought alcohol after 2am from on-licences were 2.9 times more likely to drink high amounts of alcohol compared to those who purchased before 2am. They were also twice as likely to drink frequently.

When on-licence hours are reduced, studies generally find that alcohol-related harms are reduced. For example a study [5] in Newcastle, Australia, found that there was a 37% decrease in assaults when their premises reduced their trading hours in the early hours of the morning. No displacement to other neighbourhoods or premises took place as a result of reducing the hours in one particular area. These positive changes have been maintained.

Opening hours (on-licences and off-licences)

Having later opening hours can reduce the exposure of alcohol (and its advertising) to children on their journey from home to school. This suggests that it would be ideal if all off-licences remained closed until after 9am or 10am, once children have made their way to school. It would also be useful for them to close when children leave school (i.e. between 3 to 4pm).

Research has documented the association between exposure to alcohol advertising around schools and increased intentions to use alcohol among very young adolescents [6]. Exposure to in-store displays of alcohol have also been found to increase the likelihood of drinking [7]

Social service providers in New Zealand have been concerned about the negative impact of early opening hours on persons with alcohol dependence. A later opening hour may further assist those who have made a decision to reduce their alcohol intake and support those in recovery.

Closing Hours (off-licences)

In New Zealand, drinkers who purchased alcohol from off-licences after 10pm were found to be twice as likely to be heavy drinkers compared to those who purchased alcohol from an off-licence before 10pm [8].

In New Zealand, approximately 75% of all alcohol is sold from off-licences (43% from bottle stores, 32% from supermarkets) [9]. Restricting off-licence supply of alcohol is therefore very important in terms of alcohol harm reduction.

Reducing the density of licensed premises

The more alcohol outlets in an area, the more hazardous drinking is likely to occur and therefore more harm. High numbers of outlets in an area have been found to increase alcohol-related harms such as violence, assaults, drink driving, and child maltreatment. This applies to both off-licences and on-licences. A high concentration of alcohol outlets is also associated with heavy drinking among adolescents.

High numbers of outlets may increase harm through: 1) increasing the accessibility of alcohol (reducing time/distance to access alcohol), 2) increasing price competition which lowers the price of alcohol, 2) decreasing the amenity and good order in a community. Outlets also present problems in terms of harmful exposure to alcohol advertising.

In New Zealand, areas of low income have been found to have more liquor outlets than those of higher income [1]. It has also been shown in research [2] that young Māori and Pacific males (i.e. 15-24 years) and young European females are more vulnerable to the effects of living in close proximity to alcohol outlets and living in communities with a high number of outlets, respectively.

Protect those most vulnerable to harm by restricting the location of licensed premises

Councils have the ability (through Local Alcohol Policies) to determine the location of outlets in their local areas. The purpose of controlling the location of licensed premises is to protect certain populations from alcohol-related harm. Useful approaches may be to stop new alcohol outlets being located in low income areas, near schools, Marae, urupa, alcohol rehabilitation centres, or near other alcohol outlets etc. Restrictions could also be placed to reduce the amount of alcohol advertising permitted near schools.

It is also important to control the location of premises to avoid many outlets clustering together. Clustering increases the risk of alcohol-related problems.

Placing conditions on liquor licences

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 allows licensing decision makers to place conditions on a liquor licence. Some are compulsory conditions, for example:

  • Stating the days and hours during which alcohol may be sold
  • Stating a place or places on the premises at which drinking water is freely available to customers
  • Single alcohol areas in supermarkets and grocery stores – click here for more information

In addition, licensing decision makers have the discretion to add further conditions (over and above the compulsory conditions) to the licence to minimise alcohol-related harm associated with the individual premises.

Discretionary conditions can also be stated within a local Council’s Local Alcohol Policy. Examples of discretionary conditions include (but are not limited to):

  • Prohibiting the sale of single alcoholic beverages
  • Requiring off-licences to close between 3-4pm (when children leave school) to minimise exposure to alcohol advertising
  • Requiring a one-way door policy after a specified hour (on-licences, club licences, special licences only – e.g. no one can enter the premises after 12am, only those in the establishment can continue purchasing alcohol)
  • Prohibiting the sale of certain types of products
  • Restricting the use of outdoor areas for dining or drinking after a specified hour.

Further examples of licence conditions can be found here.

Research shows that these types of approaches may be limited in their effectiveness if not accompanied by stronger evidence-based restrictions to the availability of alcohol [10]. Research also shows that discretionary conditions are more effective if they are applied in a consistent manner [10]


Prohibiting the sale of single alcoholic serves (also known as single sales) is backed up by strong evidence. Research has documented the association between single sales and alcohol-related violence and crime [11]. Furthermore, an intervention to reduce single sales was found to reduce rates of alcohol-related ambulance attendances among 15 to 24 year olds [12]. Single units of alcohol are likely to be favoured by those who are heavy drinkers and also price sensitive; namely adolescents and young adults, and those with an alcohol dependence. Many licensees in New Zealand have already signed undertakings to not offer for sale any single alcoholic beverages from their premises.

A suitable discretionary condition may therefore be:

“The licensee must not sell single units of mainstream beer, cider or RTDs in less than 445ml packaging. Boutique and handcrafted beer and cider are exempt from this provision.”


One-way door conditions can also be added on a licence and can be included within a Local Alcohol Policy.

The approach works by staggering the time that customers leave licensed premises (thereby decreasing crowds of people exiting licensed premises at the same time) and reduce migration between premises (which Police contend is one of the main issues confronting them late at night). They can also help decrease preloading behaviour. Within New Zealand, ALAC (now part of the Health Promotion Agency) conducted an evaluation of the Christchurch one-way-door intervention in 2008 [9]. The evaluation found that while there was no overall reduction in alcohol-related crime in the inner city, there were reductions in some subsets of crime. It also showed that the one-way door intervention relied on effective working relationships by all parties, including Police and licensees. Additionally, in Dunedin in 2008 approximately 25 inner-city bars took part in a one-way door trial for 3 months, demonstrating a reduction in alcohol-fuelled violence in the central city. One-way door restrictions may be a useful tool to minimise harm. However, on their own and, if inconsistently applied, one-way doors are unlikely to be effective.


Conditions may also be sought to address new and innovative alcohol products being introduced to the retail market. Some of these products (e.g. alcohol sachets, alcoholic ice-blocks) can very dangerous for members of the public to consume. As such, conditions may be placed to restrict their sale.

Click here to go to the Reference list