Big Barrel decision due before Christmas
The "deprived" Highbury community will have to wait until close to Christmas to find out whether a new Big Barrel will be allowed to open beside Palmerston North's Cloverlea roundabout.
The legal battle about I S Dhillon and Sons' application for a new off-licence at the former service station site went another round in the High Court yesterday.
The ratepayer-funded appeal against the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority's decision to grant a licence was lodged by Cr Tangi Utikere, an objector at the original hearing.
His lawyer John Maassen told Justice Stephen Kos the decision was wrong in law.
"Highbury is a socially deprived suburb of Palmerston North. It is also vulnerable to liquor abuse."
Cr Utikere said in the notice of appeal that it was "well-known as being a lower socio-economic area with classic alcohol and crime issues".
The authority should have used its specialist knowledge to draw the link that the new licence would lead to greater availability of alcohol and would make those issues worse.
It was not up to the objectors to prove an outcome that had not yet happened, he said, but to alert the authority to the risks.
Mr Maassen said the proliferation of outlets and opening hours were fundamental to the issue of supply, which was directly connected to social ills.
He said the applicant was "preying on" a vulnerable community.
In discounting objections to the granting of the licence as irrelevant, the authority did not pay enough attention to the underlying purpose of the Sale of Liquor Act, which was to reduce alcohol abuse.
But operator Baldeep Dhillon's lawyer, Alastair Sherriff, said the objectors had not provided evidence the outlet would cause an increase in alcohol abuse. "There is no evidence linking abuse with the two existing outlets. There is nothing about the effect a third would have."
And despite their commentary about social deprivation, they had not linked that to issues they were entitled to address, such as the days and hours of operation, he said.
Justice Kos said he was "slightly surprised" to see the city council "at war" with the opinion of its own licensing inspector, Lynne Kroll, who made no objection to the licence application. "It seems to be having a bob each way."
Mr Sherriff said a group of councillors appeared to be using the process to do something the council should have done under the Resource Management Act, if it was determined the site was not appropriate for a liquor outlet.
The police did not object to granting the licence, and did not appear at the application hearing.
But Mr Maassen said the authority should have given greater weight to the concerns expressed by "upstanding members of the community", on behalf of a deprived area.
It should have given greater consideration to concerns about increased density of outlets, given there were already two liquor retailers at the roundabout.
Mr Dhillon has since taken over one of them, at the Cloverlea Tavern, and rebranded it as a Big Barrel.
He has said he will close that in favour of the former service station site if the licence is granted.
Justice Kos said that was news to him, and undermined the objectors' concerns that granting the new licence would lead to an increase in the availability and abuse of alcohol.
Mr Sherriff said if there were extra outlets, it did not follow that alcohol sales would increase overall, that more alcohol would be consumed in the neighbourhood, or that it would lead to greater abuse.
The objectors had failed to prove that causal link in the evidence they gave, he said.
Justice Kos reserved his decision.