Court rules against NCC over pokies

KAREN GOODGER
Last updated 13:00 08/09/2011

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Nelson's Victory community has come up trumps in its long-running battle against Nelson City Council's gambling policy.

The High Court has ruled the city council failed to follow proper procedure when it made changes to the policy, relaxing rules that limit the proximity of pokie machines to ATMs, kindergartens, schools and playgrounds.

It is a significant win for the Nelson Gambling Taskforce, which raised $10,000 to take the council to court following community outrage at nine pokie machines being installed in Victory's Brewers Bar.

Those machines may end up having to be removed as a result of the judgment – the third court battle the council has lost this year.

Nelson City Council chief executive Keith Marshall declined to comment this morning, because he was yet to obtain legal advice. Mayor Aldo Miccio did not respond to calls from the Nelson Mail.

Nelson Gambling Taskforce member Hester Phillips welcomed the judgment, which she shared with concerned residents last night.

"We had a glass of champagne. People were just over the moon. I think we have achieved what we set out to achieve," she said.

The judgment would limit where pokies were able to go in future.

"We have a situation here in Nelson where the Nelson City Council admitted in the High Court that they altered the gambling policy at the request of one man to put nine pokies in the heart of Victory."

It seemed "highly unlikely" that Internal Affairs would not require the removal of those pokie machines given the judgment, she said.

"The judge said in court that he hadn't seen a case like this that was so clear in a long time. When he said that, we all looked at each other and thought we were going to win."

The trust was hopeful of getting costs awarded against the council, she said.

"We are very disappointed by NCC's attitude throughout this process and their attempts to prevent this case ever being heard in court."

The trust gave the council the opportunity to avoid a court case, she suggests.

"Early on they charged us hundreds of dollars for information we were entitled to under the Official Information Act. Then they sought the maximum amount of security for costs, through the court believing that our small community group would never be able to raise these funds," she said. In the High Court decision, Justice Simon France said the amendments Nelson City Council made to its gambling policy in 2010, other than a change in the maximum number of machines allowed, "did not comply with the statutory consultation requirements".

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This was because the draft policy that people were invited to comment on proposed a change in the number of machines allowed, but other changes, including relaxing the location rules, were made subsequently without people being specifically invited to comment on those aspects.

"If one stands back here, keeping in mind what the purpose of the special consultative procedure are, it is plain, I suggest, that the process has misfired."

The Trillian Trust applied and sought consent to put pokies into the Brewers Bar the same month that the new policy was adopted. Brewers Bar spokesman Peter McGrath was unaware of the decision this morning and declined to comment before obtaining legal advice.

- The Nelson Mail

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