3 Sep 2015

Public hails victory over Nelson liquor shop

9:09 am on 3 September 2015

Public pressure has forced the owner of a Nelson liquor store to abandon plans to renew its licence, and a city councillor says it reveals a licensing loophole others should be aware of.

Nelson City councillor Matt Lawrey said it was wrong that the Victory Liquor Centre, set up in a low socio-economic area on the city fringe, was able to operate on the back of the previous tavern's business licence.

Nelson City Councillor Matt Lawrey outside Nelson’s Victory Liquor Centre

Nelson City Councillor Matt Lawrey outside Nelson’s Victory Liquor Centre Photo: RNZ / Tracey Neal

The store closed several months ago, when the licence it was operating under expired.

The owners had lodged a fresh application which attracted hefty opposition, including from police, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board and district licensing inspector Sarah Yarrow.

Mr Lawrey said it was surprising that someone could buy a business with existing alcohol licences, dispense with all the responsibilities that come with running an on-licence, and turn it into a liquor store.

"There is no way the liquor centre should have been allowed to open in 2013 without having to go through a licence application process, but that is exactly what happened.

"It was entirely legal and, as I understand it, there is no reason why it couldn't happen in other parts of the country."

Mr Lawrey said there was a big difference between drinking in a supervised environment, such as a tavern, and being able to buy liquor to drink off site.

"A pub is a social hub and a supervised environment. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with having and running an on-licence.

"An off-licence doesn't provide the same safeguards as an on-licence and that makes a really big difference."

Mr Lawrey said there was a direct correlation between the store's opening and an increase in crime and littering in the area.

"I'm in the square every day and I have a bit of an obsession [with] picking up rubbish and the difference between then and now is huge. But it's not only that - it was the grown-ups drinking RTDs after school and the general anti-social behaviour.

"Since the store closed I've not seen that behaviour in the square."

Keep Victory Safe community developer Gayle Petch said the opening of the store brought with it a significant rise in alcohol-related problems, including anti-social and intimidating behaviour, broken bottles and cans in the park and playground, vandalism and other petty crime.

"A store selling cheap liquor, with easy access to a park and close to pre-schools and schools, was never something Victory wanted or needed, and I know many in the community will be breathing a sigh of relief," she said.

A partner in Nelson law firm McFadden McMeeken Phillips, Nigel McFadden, worked pro-bono to help fight the licence renewal application.

He said it was not something he had come across before.

"What's happened here is that the liquor store started off as one thing with an on-licence and an off-licence, and it appears from the plans on the council file that the off-licence was quite small but over time, after changes in ownership, that seems to have changed and become a very small, if at all on-licence and larger proportioned off-licence."

Mr McFadden said if Nelson City had formed its alcohol policy, which seemed to be "on hold", it would have helped the situation.

He said it sent a message that communities are a lot stronger than in the past and were not prepared to allow what was happening at Victory to continue.

"That's a great message for any community - be empowered to look after your own community."

Alcohol Health Watch director Rebecca Williams said the community got the outcome it wanted, and it raised questions about the licensing process.

She also praised the business owner for listening to the community and making a decision that was no doubt financially difficult.

"There are pockets of Victory that have a low socio-economic status and we do know that alcohol causes increased harm in these sorts of communities, so it's important they're able to effect change where needed."

Landlord Frank Saxton said he was now pondering whether to leave the building derelict, or pull it down.

"I'm just flotsam and jetsam in a huge ocean being bobbed around by various forces, I'm no clever guy with a vision for the future, but I'm kind of in survival mode.

"The reason I feel it is a community is because it has the shops. If they were gone, there'd be no community. Having the shops makes it distinctive."