Submitters fight to stop 30th liquor outlet in town

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 14/05/2014

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Another bottle shop would be a "disaster" for a deprived community with one of the country's highest rates of alcohol outlets per person, a hearing has been told.

The east side of Masterton had not only the worst possible ranking on a 10-point scale used by health authorities to assess social deprivation, but also one of the highest rates in the country of alcohol outlets per head, a hearing of the Masterton District Council licensing committee was told yesterday.

Since research showed a link between social deprivation and alcohol-related harm, this made it especially unsuitable for yet another bottle store, Wellington Regional Public Health medical officer Stephen Palmer said.

Masterton Liquor Ltd, directed by Gurdev Sandhu, 23, of Whanganui, has applied to open a bottle store at 81 Dixon St in central Masterton, bordering the east side district.

It was opposed by Regional Public Health, Masterton's Community Alcohol Action Group, primary health organisation Compass Health and four neighbouring businesses.

While neither police nor the council's planning department opposed the application, council licensing inspector Kaine Jaquiery recommended the council's licensing committee refuse it because it was "highly likely" to cause further alcohol-related harm in the high-crime, low-income east side of Masterton.

Using research cited by Regional Public Health, Jaquiery predicted a new bottle store in Masterton would cause an annual increase of 14 thefts, three incidents of vandalism, three "violence events" and one road accident.

Representatives of businesses operating near the proposed bottle store backed that view in submissions.

"I know what happens [in the area] now and I can see this being a hell of a lot worse . . . It's going to be a disaster, it's going to be a danger," said Gary Stewart, property manager of nearby businesses including Countdown supermarket and Briscoes.

Palmer, a doctor specialising in public heath, opposed Sandhu's application because Masterton was already "saturated" with alcohol outlets.

Masterton had 29 alcohol outlets for a population of 23,400 and 12 were within walking distance of the proposed bottle store, he said. The national average was 10 off-licence premises per 10,000 people - Masterton's was 12.4.

"I find these figures extraordinary; it only requires 1000 people for an off-licence to be viable. Somehow we've got it wrong as a country," he said.

Sandhu told the committee he was confident of his ability to sell alcohol responsibly in deprived areas, following experience managing a bottle store in Whanganui.

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His lawyer, Jonathan Wiles, questioned the accuracy of the research referred to by Palmer.

He dismissed as "quibbling" concerns raised by neighbouring businesses about parking, traffic congestion and antisocial behaviour.

The committee's decision was reserved.

- The Dominion Post

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