• November 9, 2020
West Auckland - does it still need licensing trusts? Photo: Zoe Holland
COMMENT: Welcome to West Auckland, where a three-bedroom home will cost you around $1 million, but you can’t buy a bottle of wine in the supermarket.
Are we such booze-soaked ne’er-do-wells here in the West we still need a special licensing trust and rules not applicable anywhere else in Auckland? In fact, there are only two other licensing trusts in the whole country: Invercargill and Mataura, both in the deep South.
Up here, the only place to buy alcohol is a chain of bottle stores run by the Waitakere and Portage Licensing Trusts, which together cover most of the west. Prices are higher than supermarkets and short of picking up beer or wine in other parts of the region - I have been known to do this - we’re stuck with them.
It’s true that other hospitality establishments can open up, but in West Auckland we’re talking mainly sit-down, wine-with-dinner joints. When the lights dim, the only bars allowed to stay open into the night are trusts-run. They skimp on the ambience while they’re at it, peddling the generic, the vanilla.
No wonder our streets are rolling with tumbleweed come Friday or Saturday night. Outrageous Fortune got it right – we have long been house-party types in the west; it seems the trusts may have something to do with it. We stockpile our booze to ensure we don’t get caught short by the conservative closing times of their off-licences and actually drink more because of it. Isn’t it time we got the opportunity to grow up? Let us have a couple of quirky cocktail bars or even a pub that’s not playing sport all the time. We need some reward for all this gentrification.
The last time we had a referendum on the trusts was in 2003 - a long time between drinks. We’ve watched the west boom and the whole of Auckland change around us. We’ve seen places like Point Chev and Te Atatu Peninsula become unaffordable for first-home buyers. Kumeu and even Helensville have become "sensible commuting" distance from town. We’re practically city fringe now! Why can’t we have a little fun in the weekend?
Licensing trusts are political beasts, with some of their board members elected by us, the public, in our local government postal ballots. From time to time, potential candidates stand up for trust reform, but voter apathy is pretty high and the trusts thrive under status quo thinking. We need healthy competition, not a bureaucratic panel measuring out our standard drinks.
The Trusts Action Group has stepped up and have been collecting signatures since 2018 with a view to triggering a referendum on the future of the trusts. If they sign up 15 per cent of registered voters, West Auckland can officially decide whether to keep the trusts, or haul them out like so much recycling after a long weekend. At least we will know for sure if we’re ready to join the lucky suburbs.
A vote to allow competition back into the market does not mean the end of the trusts, only the end of their monopoly. They can continue to give back to the community. We have seen it work in Birkenhead, also a licensing trust area until the public voted it out in 2002. The sky didn’t fall, dairies didn’t start peddling booze on every street corner (the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 takes care of that ) and a bit of after-dark variety was able to flourish.
Seeing the same thing come to pass in West Auckland would also make life easier for us responsible types who just want the convenience of being able to buy a wine from Countdown and enjoy a quiet night in.