Harmful drinking is a significant issue in our communities that contributes to violent crime and can lead to poor health outcomes. It comes in many forms with emerging trends from Police data showing that pre-loading and side-loading behaviour is escalating.

We’ve all heard about pre-loading which is heavy drinking at a residential address before going to licenced premises. Side-loading is less well known and is when someone leaves a licenced premise to drink alcohol in a public space nearby before returning to the licenced premise.

Alcohol free zones are a vital tool to address side-loading and reduce the amount of harmful drinking in public places. It also helps to reduce the visibility of harmful drinking especially to young people.

So what does it take to put alcohol free zones in place in our communities? It takes evidence.

Graham Sewell, Principal Policy Advisor at Hutt City Council said “There are specific legal requirements Council must apply when developing a new Control of Alcohol in Public Places Bylaw 2016. Without sufficient evidence no bylaw controlling the consumption of alcohol in any public place within Lower Hutt could have been established.”

This is where Healthy Families NZ’s principal of “collaboration for collective impact” came into play. Healthy Families Lower Hutt’s Leadership Group banded together to do a joint submission on Hutt City’s Proposed Control of Alcohol in Public Places Bylaw. When our local leaders collaborate and stand together with a powerful voice the impact can create significant and lasting change for our communities.

The voices of the health sector including the Chief Executive of Hutt Valley District Health Board were amplified by including the view of business and community leaders in the submission.

Hutt Valley District Health Board Chief Executive Dr Ashley Bloomfield said “Having just reviewed a selection of cases from recent emergency department (ED) presentations, harmful alcohol consumption continues to create the significant health, safety and wider societal burden that I experienced during my clinical practice.

Bans on alcohol consumption in public places have been shown to be an important part of this approach. Such bans have multiple positive impacts – they reduce harmful alcohol consumption per se; they make public places safer for people to enjoy, including undertaking physical activity; and they help ‘denormalise’ such consumption. All contribute to a healthier, safer and thriving Hutt Valley.”

John Anderson, owner and operator of Stokes Valley New World said “It’s not fair on my staff leaving the store at 9 or 10pm to feel unsafe as they head home from work. It’s the same when I get call outs for different things in the middle of the night.

I want to feel safer coming to my store at that hour rather than wondering if there will be intoxicated people hanging around the store and what will I or my wife be faced with?”

By providing the clinical evidence along with the business and social impacts of harmful drinking, the submission provided further support and the evidence needed for Hutt City Council to consider the status of the bylaw.

“Both individual and collective submissions that provided solid evidence and cover a range of viewpoints were vital to the development of the new bylaw”, said Sewell.

As a result of this collaboration and other public submissions, extensive areas of Lower Hutt are now 24-hour alcohol free zones. This includes a number of our parks and gardens, the CBD and suburban shopping centres across Lower Hutt. There is also a 9pm to 5am ban on consuming alcohol in public areas across the city.

Imagine if harmful drinking in public wasn’t visible to our young people.