Upper Hutt community concerns at increasing liquor stores
Upper Hutt is the latest in a series of communities to oppose the growth of liquor outlets and the related problems that they bring to surrounding neighbourhoods.
A public meeting last night (14 August) at the Upper Hutt Baptist Church hall attracted about fifty people – drawn to the meeting by concern at the spread of liquor outlets in their neighbourhoods..
The meeting was addressed by Andrea Boston, Public Health Advisor, from the Regional Public Health.
Ms Boston began by saying that she would present a “How To Guide” in submitting public objections against new liquor outlets.
She began first with a background, citing similar, recent incidences of communities opposing the spread of liquor outlets . One, three weeks ago in Trentham, Upper Hutt, resulted in the community lodging 70 objections.
Ms Boston referred to opposition to increasuing numbers of bottle stores in Ranui Heights, Porirua, and Newlands, Wellington. She said,
“We’ve been very lucky with the Ranui Heights and the Newlands stores, in that with the large number of objections, the applicant has decided to withdraw their applications. So there are reasons as well to actually make the applicant think about is the right place to put a bottle store, as well as informing the Liquor Licensing Authority and District Licensing Authority around your preferences.”
Ms Boston advised the meeting that Public Notices were usually “tucked away” in Public Notices, which is why they are usually not noticed by the public.
In this instance, the applicant advertised their notices, as required by law, on 8 August and 15 August in the ‘Upper Hutt Leader‘,
Ms Boston said that “you’ve actually been quite lucky in this instance that it’s actually come to the attention of others” . People in the community had been alerted by leafleting surrounding neighbourhoods, to inform others in the community of the planned new liquor store,
She emphasised that it does pay to regularly scan Public Notices in local newspapers, to be kept informed regarding proposed new liquor outlets that may be planned for an area.
Public notifications, said Ms Boston, require to be made only twice. She added that interested parties have only ten working days from the first-placed advertisement, to make an objection to their local District Licensing Authority.
Ms Boston then explained that objectors must have a relevance to the premises and the area, having a “greater interest than the public generally”. She gave examples for objection; eg; of living nearby, such as living within a kilometre of the proposed liquor outlet; or an area with which an objector has a close interest in, such as a small shopping area; nearby school; church; existing social problems with alcohol abuse; or have regular business ties, and other regular activities.
Other factors could include safety-related problems.
Further grounds for objection can also include the vulnerability of communities, such as low-income/poor; large number of unemployed and beneficiaries; and with an abundance of already-existing liquor outlets. Evidence of acohol-related harm such as liquor bottles strewn about, or loud, intoxicated people at night could also be grounds for objection.
Another example on which objections could be lodged is one which she referred to as failure of “Controlled Purchase Operations”. In plain english; if the applicant has previously sold alcohol to a person under 18.
A reason must be stated for an objection, and criteria for objections usually relate to issues such as suitability of the licensee, and the conditions attached to any license such as opening hours.
Copies of applications for a license are kept, and can be viewed, at local Council offices.
In this case, the Public Notice did not specifically state that the applicant’s documents were available for inspection at the Upper Hutt City Council offices, and instead simply provided a street address; “838 – 842 Fergusson Dr“.
Ms Boston said that determining the suitability of a licensee might prove difficult, but that the NZ Companies Business Register (searchable online) could allow a degree of information surrounding who the applicant was. This might take some time to search, to discover if they have been previously struck off as Directors in any other company.
Ms Boston stated that there have been recent changes in the way that legislation has been viewed, and we are now starting to get wider recognition of the “object of the Act”. A wider concern for “significant probability of alcohol-related harm” is now being considered during the objection process. She gave an example of her opposition to a new liquor outlet opening in close proximity to St Pat’s college in Silverstream.
Ms Boston stated in her objection that she was concerned at the harm alcohol caused to young people; damage to nearby property; and public consumption of liquor in nearby secluded areas.
Possible outcomes of objections could suceed in reducing an outlet’s operating hours. Other restrictions such as reduced advertising could also be achieved.
Ms Boston then outlined how an objections should be made; in writing; addressed to a local District Licensing Authority; and made before the stated deadline. Ms Boston said that if the community wanted to make their voice heard, that they had to participate in the process. She gave as an example a community response in
Cannon’s Creek, led by one particular individual, who brought people together, to oppose a licensee. She said,
“It’s great for community“.
Ms Boston then opened the meeting up to questions.
Q: Does the Authority look at the differences between Off-licenses and On-licenses, because one takes alcohol away and the other, like the Quinn’s Post, consumes on-premises?
Ms Boston said it’s hard to guess how the Authority would look at differences. She could not offer any advice on that question, although often it depended on location.
Q: How would someone find out if the application had a conviction for selling to under-age persons?
Ms Boston replied that that would be a matter for Police and Public Health to look into.
Q: A member of the public stated he had been assaulted twice by intoxicated youth. He had been accosted by youth asked to buy them cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. He said that geographically, there was one liquor store every two kilometres. He believed that Upper Hutt already had sufficient liquor outlets. He asked Ms Boston what happened to the application for an outlet near St Pat’s College?
Ms Boston replied, that objections could not be based on density alone. However, she did say that in the past liquor licensing used to be “lax” but that there was now a considerable “tightening of the criteria”. So what may have been permissable two or three years ago, might not be acceptable now.
Q: How fast was the application process once the time period for objections was closed? What was the time table?
The speed at which applications were processed was difficult to determine, and was dependent on the “load” of existing applications, and backed-up Hearings, Ms Boston replied. She said there was one Liquor Licensing Authority which traveled around the country, to consider all applications. She added that the Authority tends to conduct it’s Hearings in the main centres; Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, etc. Ms Boston added that at times the deliberation process could take one month or six months.
Q: A question was raised regarding the new liquor outlet at Silverstream whether the application was granted because no one attended the Hearing? An audience member said that Silverstream primary school had strenuously opposed the liquor license. As a consequence of the license being granted, and the outlet opening, their school playgrounds were now constantly strewn with empty bottles, cans, and other litter. The audience member said she found it hard to understand why the application was granted with St Pats College directly across the road, and other schools in the vicinity.
Ms Boston admitted she was not aware of the circumstances surrounding the granting of that particular lience. She advised the audience to visit the ALAC website, where licensing decisions were on public record. Each decision to grant a license was explained by the Authority.
At this point the policeman responsible for liquor licensing for the Hutt Valley, who also attended the public meeting, said he had been present at the Hearing, and only two objections were submitted to the Authority.
Q: Another audience member asked if their license can be revoked if they were caught selling to under-age customers?
Ms Boston replied that “it would probably take a little more than that to close it down“.
Q: The validity of the applicant, ‘Euphoria Ltd‘ was raised. A member of the audience said he had done a check with the Companies Office, and said that the only company by that name had been struck of. He considered that if a company could not be searched then he questioned the validity of any application. He further asked if the requirements of the law had been complied with.
Ms Boston said that was definitely a matter to be brought up with the Authority.
An issue raised by an audience member who stated that whilst this application had been publicised last week in the ‘Upper Hutt Leader‘, yet their identity was still unknown as the name ‘Euphoria Ltd‘ was not on the Companies Office listings.
Later that night, this blogger carried out a search of the Companies Office website, and did indeed find a current listing for ‘Euphoria Ltd‘.
The company appears to have been registered on 9 August 2012 – one day after the first Public Notice was published in the ‘Upper Hutt Leader’.
Which is just as well. It is illegal for a business to present itself as a limited liability company when, in fact, it is not. The member of the public had done his homework – and ‘Euphoria Ltd‘ had just scrapped through.
Q: The next question was directed at the policeman present, and asked if there was any area of concern around this license application?
The policeman replied that Police were always concerned with alcohol-related offending, and that they were obviously in favour of reducing that.
Q: Another member of the public asked which shop was intended to be the liquor outlet, as there were two on the Whakatiki St/Fergusson Drive intersection that were currently empty.
The correct shop was identified.
Q: Another person immediatly asked if they had met their legal obligations by placing the required public notice in the window of the relevant shop. He pointed out he had seen no such public notice.
Another member of the public pointed out that a “public notice” had been placed on the window. But it’s size was such that it’s value was questionable.
The next day, this blogger visited the shop in question, and took these photographs,
Can anyone spot the public notice in the photograph below,
The “public notice” consisted of the same advert placed in the ‘Upper Hutt Leader‘, and measured barely larger than a Driving License,
Not exactly helping to keep the public informed, one could say…?
There were further questiions and answers as the public meeting progressed.
The Pastor of the Upper Hutt Baptist Church advised the meeting that he and two other Churches, of separate denomination, were co-ordinating public opposition to this problem and welcomed ongoing community participation.
The Pastor said that this would be an inter-denomination group, and participation from the wider community was welcomed and encouraged.
Toward the end of discussion, Ms Boston stated that this was the community’s opportunity to be proactive. It was important for people to make their voices be heard and not sit on our hands. She pointed out that copies of a booklet were available to the public to take away. The booklet gave clear explanations and examples of how to draft and lodge a submission with the Upper Hutt District Licensing Agency.
Lastly, a show of hands was requested to indicate how many was opposed to the new liquor outlet, and would be prepared to lodge a submission opposing the proposed outlet. The response, as far as this blogger could determine, was a unanimous ‘forest’ of hands that shot up. (If anyone dissented, they were invisible in their opposition.)
Those attending, from the community, seemed unequivocal in their views; the public were sick of an endless proliferation of liquor outlets, and the subsequent problems that ensued.
This blogger will also be lodging a submission on this matter.
Though two additionals point needs to be raised here:
1. Public Notices
A “public notice” in a shop window that is barely visible to passers-by is unacceptable. It makes a mockery of the whole process of public involvement. Government must amend the law on this matter and stipulate a minimum size for a public notice – or not bother.
If a “public notice” can be marginally larger than a driver’s license, then what is the point of having such a notice?
At the very least, a public notice should be minimally the size of an A3 (two A4 sheets of paper) in size.
2. Period of Lodging an objection
Quite simply, ten working days is far too short. We all lead busy lives and attempting to gather relevant information to draft a sensible submission requires more than just ten days. That is simply inadequate. Especially when the Licensing Authorities give themselves anywhere from one to six months to consider an application.
This blogger suggests two weeks (14 days, including weekends) as the minimum time required for the public to have meaningful participation in this process.
This country already has a growing, endemic alcohol problem. Communities must be given every opportunity to address these problems and to initiate solutions.
Otherwise, the process is patently one-sided, and designed to suit business interests rather than communities. And that is simply unacceptable.
= fs =
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