'Puff shop must move'
Hamilton East residents fed up with a surge of anti-social behaviour in their community will have to wait at least three months before council can close a neighbourhood puff shop.
Legal high store U njoY R18+ has been blamed for a spike in aggressive and intimidating behaviour in the suburb as drug users beg for cash to fund their habit.
Hamilton East businesses, community groups and residents met yesterday to draw up an action plan to shut down the Grey St store, saying people no longer felt safe in their community.
Last week Marian Catholic Primary School asked parents not to allow their children to walk through Hamilton East alone and urged students to avoid Grey St.
Meeting organiser Ren Hammington told a gathering of about 40 that he was "horrified" by escalating bad behaviour on Grey St and around Steele Park.
The meeting included residents, local MPs, police, community leaders and business owners.
Hammington phoned police on Monday after witnessing a large brawl at the park which left one man unconscious.
There were also reports of people defecating in the street.
"As a community we're saying we've had enough and we want to establish a standard of behaviour for our community," he said.
"We've reached a tipping point and we want to turn talk into action. I know a lot of businesses are worried about the safety of their staff who start work at 6-7am because they get harassed by customers congregating outside the puff store."
Waikato Regional Council health and safety adviser Grant Wharry said staff had been harassed in the council carpark by drug users wanting cash.
The council employs about 200 staff in Hamilton East.
U njoY R18+ owner Kinnari Mihir Patel told the Times he was aware of residents' concerns but was adamant he was doing nothing wrong.
He didn't believe legal high products harmed users.
"You best ask the Health Ministry because they've issued me with a licence to sell this so they would know. I'm aware of people's concerns but this is an ongoing issue. Police know I'm not doing anything wrong so I don't have to do anything."
The Times visited Patel's store and watched as staff served 10 customers within four minutes.
Clientele included a woman in business attire, construction workers and less salubrious types.
Hamilton City Council has called for submissions on its draft Psychoactive Substances Policy which aims to keep the sale of legal highs out of residential neighbourhoods and away from "high risk areas" such as schools.
The draft policy proposes two locations in the city where retailers could sell legal highs: the central city and Te Rapa.
City councillor Angela O'Leary said both options would force the Grey St puff shop to close and effectively halve the number of retailers able to operate in the central city.
Hearing dates to consider submissions have been pencilled in for late February with the draft policy coming into effect possibly in March at the earliest.
"The perfect location for these stores is nowhere in Hamilton but the council can't make rules which are against the law," O'Leary said.
"What we need from the public is strong, gutsy submissions that give us ideas and solutions on how we should deal with this problem."
Patel said he was willing to shift his business from Hamilton East.
Marian Catholic Primary School principal John Coulam had concerns for students' safety and said staff had been threatened in the street.
"Hamilton East is changing in dynamics because of the influence of the clientele of one shop. I've been approached by beggars asking for money and the reaction when you're unable to help them is unsavoury."
By midday a group of about 20 men and women had gathered to smoke and drink alcohol around the toilet blocks at Steele Park.
One man, who gave his name as Hurinui, said he and his mates had smoked cannabis for 40 years but avoided legal highs.
"I've had brothers who have smoked cannabis for years without problem but they use this synthetic stuff and lose their minds.
"I'd support closing this [puff] shop because this guy is cracking it at the expense of my brothers. To be honest I'd rather people support their local tinnie house."
■ Defecating in public
■ Increased begging
■ Harassment of customers
■ Bullying and intimidating behaviour
■ Increased graffiti and litter
■ Growing numbers of people loitering in Steele Park
■ Intoxicated and dishevelled people
■ Increased lewd conduct