Opposition to Avalon bottle store grows

SIMON EDWARDS
Last updated 10:13 06/12/2012
Hutt bottle store
Drink dispute: Community opposition is building to plans by Park Avenue Suprette to open an off-licence next door. The grocery already sells wine and beer, as does a dairy across the road.

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A bid to open a bottle store amongst the Park Ave shops at Avalon is running into stiff opposition, with more than 60 people meeting last night to learn how to lodge objections.

"The community doesn't want more alcohol poured into the community, it wants less," said Ian Irvine, a member of the nearby Baptist church that hosted the gathering.

"I think a turnout of this size, at short notice, underlines the community feeling."

Raj Modi, the owner of a superette at 800 High St which already sells wine, has applied for an off-licence to operate a bottle store in the recently vacated Lotto and magazine outlet at 802 High St. He is seeking 8am-10pm opening hours seven days a week.

John Pepper, of Hutt City Council's environmental enforcement division, told the meeting the deadline for objections, which must be in writing, is December 11.

Deputy Mayor David Bassett said in the previous three to four days he had taken about 30 phone calls from people upset about the propsect of a bottle store opening at the small suburban shopping centre. Mayor Ray Wallace was also concerned, he said.

One local asked Sergeant Peter Benge, the police alcohol harm reduction officer for the Hutt Valley, if there was anything to stop them holding a protest picket outside Mr Modi's store.

"If we hit someone in the pocket immediately [they may change their mind]," the man said.

Sergeant Benge said a peaceful protest was lawful. In Cannons Creek, people held a march down the street to demonstrate against a proposed bottle store.

Sergeant Benge, who appears for police before Liquor Licensing Authority hearings, said he knew of cases where strong community objections had caused applicants to abandon their plans before the case was even heard.

"Others dig their toes in."

A Naenae resident said some patrons who frequent a bottle store near her home "loitered" at a bus stop, and fights would break out. She suggested all the objectors might hire a top lawyer to represent them before the Liquor Licensing Authority.

But Andrea Boston, a public health advisor from Regional Public Health, advised that the Licensing Authority gave more weight to submissions from ordinary people who could show reasons why the opening of an off-licence where they lived, worked or often visited would cause or exacerbate problems such as under-age drinking, littering, intimidation, etc. Judge John Hole, who conducts the hearings, goes out of his way to make sure ordinary people who don't have legal training or public speaking experience, get a chance to express their views.

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She and Sergeant Benge said objectors must be willing to turn up in person to the Licensing Authority hearing, likely to be in 3-4 months' time, to speak to their submissions. The applicant, or his legal counsel, had to right to cross-examine submitters on the basis of their objections.

There were murmurings of discontent at the meeting that such a hearing can take one or two days and would likely be in Wellington. Several speakers said that made it difficult for the elderly and those with full-time jobs.

Mr Modi is overseas until late January. A man behind the counter of the suprette this morning said the company had no comment to make.

- Hutt News

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