Hope on the horizon for Newcastle’s bars

The Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA), has announced it will consider the relaxing of liquor license conditions for venues in Newcastle on a case-by-case basis, after the findings from the Newcastle Liquor Trial were released.

An evaluation report was published following the major trial which relaxed various restrictions imposed on venues within the Newcastle LGA since 2008. The first stage of the trial was undertaken from October 2020 to March 2021 and involved extended trading hours and removal of drink restrictions after 10pm for restaurants and small bars.

The stage two trial involved 21 hotels, bars and nightclubs and ran for a year from 17 October 2021, and included:

  • Removal of 1am and 1.30am lockout restrictions;
  • Extension of liquor trading hours until 3.30am on any night venues are normally authorised to sell liquor until at least 2.30am; and
  • Easing of restrictions on the types of drinks that may be served, allowing higher strength cocktails, neat spirits and shooters.

The key findings from the evaluation report were mainly positive, with the majority of participating venues indicated that the relaxed licensing conditions positively impacted their patronage, business turnover and employment opportunities.

The report also showed that there was a 40 per cent increase in total spending on dining and entertainment across the whole Newcastle LGA compared to 2019, the most recent year not impacted by COVID restrictions.

While there was an overall rise in the number of assaults and incidents of affray at the participating venues during the trial compared to previous years, the majority of venues recorded no increases.  Compared to 2008 when the conditions were imposed, there has been significant declines in levels of offences across all venues.

ILGA Chairperson Caroline Lamb said a wide range of data and community and stakeholder views have been taken on board from stage two of the trial, with trial conditions to continue for another four months as venues apply for a permanent relaxation of the restrictions. Applications will be considered individually.

“The evaluation report includes feedback from Newcastle venues, residents, and various stakeholders as well as patronage, noise complaints and alcohol-related offence data,” Lamb stated.

“After carefully considering the findings, ILGA has resolved that the trial conditions should continue for participating venues until 30 June to give them time to apply for changes to liquor licences.

“Because there were wide variations in levels of alcohol-related offences among the 21 venues in the trial, it’s vital that any proposals to relax conditions are considered individually, with a strong focus on compliance, safety and avoiding any unacceptable risks to the community.”

AHA NSW has welcomed ILGA’s findings and the authority’s end to a one-size-fits-all approach.

“ILGA’s communications to affected licensees sets out a way forward for venues to individually apply to have outdated conditions removed is welcome and will see an end to blanket licence conditions in the CBD,” stated AHA NSW Director – Liquor and Policing John Green.

“Previously, venues included in the trial were all tarred with the same outdated brush despite a change of ownership, management, business practices and significant culture change across the city since the ‘Newcastle Solution’ was implemented in 2008, so it is pleasing to see that now those individual applications will be considered on their merits.

“This decision is a welcome step forward in ensuring Newcastle will no longer be burdened by a set outdated restrictions which have historically impacted the city’s ability to attract national and international tourism, events and business opportunities.”

The evaluation report can be found here.

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