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Licensing fiasco ahead of Waterbourne festival

Flagstaff Team

Guy Body

With ticket marketing for star-studded events in full swing, behind the scenes organisers were involved last week in a brawl with authorities over a last-minute liquor-licensing bid. Rob Drent reports.

It must have looked like a no-brainer. A beach-front festival on Takapuna Beach Reserve over three weeks to coincide with the America’s Cup. Events and concerts with food and drink – there was even the weekly Harcourts Beach series to add a family feel to the mix. Rock icon Dave Dobbyn was confirmed, along with Tami Nelson, Goodshirt, Anna Coddington and Hollie Smith. Life after Covid – summer by the beach.

Sign-off from the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for use of the reserve was given months ago; resource consent was granted to construct a stage and a roof-top bar. Joylab Group, owner of reputable Takapuna waterfront bars Francs and Regatta, was engaged to provide the alcohol. So far so good.

But everything was far from calm at a last-minute liquor-licensing hearing on 8 February, when a shambolic application process was revealed.

Brookfields Lawyers partner John Young, a liquor licensing expert, was called in late in the day by the applicants. He operated as a kind of intermediary and the hearing almost turned into a farce – a type of mediation rather than a formal hearing of an application. If a licence wasn’t granted last week, there was no time to get another one. Alcohol sales were at risk and a large chunk of any profits from the event would likely evaporate.

Auckland District Licensing Committee chairperson Katia Fraser said it was one the worst applications she had seen in her seven years on the committee.

The way the organisers had approached the application “couldn’t happen again”. If the application had been heard in November, in good time, it would have been thrown out, she said.

Licensing inspector Clare Sturzaker told of multiple applications, meetings and ever-changing run sheets of events. Even on the day of the hearing, changes and amendments were being made, making it impossible for her to file a meaningful report.

At one time last year she had been told “if the liquor licence had been turned down the event would not go ahead”.

Towards the end of the hearing, lawyer John Young conceded the applicants had to take the criticisms “on the chin”. But he made sure he left with a list of to-dos, to get as much of the application through before a decision was released last Friday.

On the day of the hearing, numerous amendments and additions were made to the application to smooth its passage. Opposition from the Police and the Ministry of Health was eroded as Young deftly negotiated roadblocks.

No members of the public objected to liquor being sold at the event, when it was advertised on 29 November. But Sturzaker opposed it from the start. She maintained that the sale of liquor was the primary purpose of the licence – secondary to the event.

Auckland Unlimited, council’s tourism arm, became involved which seemed to further muddy the waters further.

“The sale and consumption of alcohol is not an event, except perhaps as part of a food or wine festival… Auckland Unlimited believed the bar should be able to operate over the full 23 days proposed, even when there were no activities taking place,” Sturzaker said.

Organisers had attempted to “fill in the gaps” to allow what was essentially a pop-up bar to keep operating, she said.

Waterbourne had first began discussions with Sturzaker in November 2018, with the idea of an event on Takapuna Beach early in 2019. The event was put on hold until 2020, then it was decided to hold it to coincide with the America’s Cup this year.

Promotor Laurence Carey of Waterbourne said he had been caught between a rock and a hard place: attempting to fulfil liquor licensing requirements but at the same time being encouraged by Auckland Unlimited to include as many events as possible to add to the festival atmosphere. It was inevitable with events that line-ups and run-sheets would change for all manner of reasons in the weeks leading up to the start date, he said.

• Joylab applied for five special licences over the course of Waterbourne.

Two were approved last Friday: a ticketed music event on 27 February, from 1pm to 9.45pm; and a licence for 19 movie nights, comedy acts and music from 28 February to March 21. Alcohol can only be supplied or consumed under strict conditions and during specific hours when the events are taking place. The sale of alcohol is to cease at 8.30pm and alcohol consumption is banned after 9pm. Detailed alcohol management and security operation plans need to be adhered to.

Decisions on the remaining three licences were due this week.

This article originally appeared in the 5 March 2021 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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