Hunter health services directly oppose Newcastle Council over extending licensed venue trading hours

Colour: Thousands enjoy a nighttime mid-winter event at Honeysuckle. Hunter New England Health has opposed a Newcastle City Council proposal to extend opening hours for some licensed venues to 2am.
Colour: Thousands enjoy a nighttime mid-winter event at Honeysuckle. Hunter New England Health has opposed a Newcastle City Council proposal to extend opening hours for some licensed venues to 2am.

HUNTER New England Local Health District has strongly opposed Newcastle City Council’s proposal to extend trading hours for some inner-city venues to 2am, in a submission in February arguing existing liquor licensing conditions should be toughened.

The health service has challenged the council and the Australian Hotel Association to produce evidence backing the 2am move that features in the council’s Draft Newcastle After Dark Strategy released on Wednesday.

The document outlines plans for a more vibrant inner-city area of nightlife precincts to support billions of dollars in growth and thousands of new residents in the next five years.

The strategy’s specific goal is for Newcastle to “grow and expand” the “evening economy later into the night”, with city centre residents warned that “ultimately there needs to be acceptance… that city life involves a degree of noise and activity”.

But in a strongly-worded submission to the Horton review into whether Newcastle’s existing liquor licence conditions should change, Hunter New England Local Health District warns that any relaxation of conditions would mean a return to the alcohol-related violence days pre-2008.

Dark: Newcastle City Council's After Dark strategy calls for more nighttime events.

Dark: Newcastle City Council's After Dark strategy calls for more nighttime events.

It warned that the council’s strategic priority of promoting the night time economy “should not be the sole consideration” when looking at licensing conditions.

“Given the acknowledged history of alcohol-related violence in Newcastle prior to 2008, and the acknowledged beneficial reductions in the occurrence of such violence and related harms since that date, any proposed change to the original licensing conditions by any party should be supported by an evidence-based estimate of the impact of the proposed changes on the rate of alcohol-related violence,” the submission said.

The health service warned that Newcastle’s continuing status as an alcohol-related violence hotspot in NSW showed that the circumstances leading to the introduction of licensing conditions a decade ago “are yet to be fully resolved”.

While the inner-city’s assault rate was reduced by 30 per cent after tighter licensing conditions were introduced, police still attended 1000 non-domestic assault incidents per year and about 100 were treated at hospital emergency departments.

“This continuing level of harm, a level more than twice the reduction achieved by the introduction of the licensing conditions, results in a significant ongoing negative impact on the health of Newcastle residents and visitors, to the safety and amenity of Newcastle, to the delivery of public services such as health services, and to the local economy,” the health service said.

“A high level of alcohol-related violence harm continues to occur in Newcastle, and at a higher rate than in NSW generally, a level of harm that suggests that the removal or reduction of conditions is inappropriate and that need exists for their enhancement.”

The health service argued that existing licensing conditions should be seen as “base conditions” applicable to all licensed premises, with additional conditions applied according to the risk, harm and compliance history of individual premises.

Additional conditions “should have a focus on further reducing the availability of alcohol, such as further restrictions on licensed premises trading hours”, the submission said.

In its After Dark strategy the council acknowledged the social and economic risks of “unmitigated and irresponsible supply and consumption” of alcohol remained “sharply in focus”.

The council had a responsibility to promote a city that was safe at night, “where people are confident they will not experience threat or harm”, the strategy said.

Significant growth in the inner-city area meant “our approaches to managing the city at night must evolve apace”, the After Dark strategy said.

Community surveys found 24 per cent of people who did not visit Newcastle at night cited safety concerns, with 27 per cent of people giving it as their second reason.

Only 3 per cent of people said they had had a negative experience at night in the city.

This story Health services says city alcohol laws need strengthening first appeared on Newcastle Herald.