Booze shop’s licence challenged on harm to ‘vulnerable’ community


Smugglers Liquor in Nawton wants to renew its off-licence but has met with opposition from a city councillor, an alcohol and drug service, and others.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

Smugglers Liquor in Nawton wants to renew its off-licence but has met with opposition from a city councillor, an alcohol and drug service, and others.

Cheap single-can alcohol sales and a bottle shop’s “vulnerable” surrounding community are being raised in a licensing challenge that could prove an important test case.

Smugglers Liquor Nawton, in Hamilton, has applied to renew its off-licence, with the owner saying she understands her responsibilities and feels part of the community.

But west ward city councillor Sarah Thomson is spearheading opposition. Thomson – who led council endorsement of a recent alcohol harm reduction private member’s bill – said the store is in a deprived area and there had been a variety of operating issues.

“The store is surrounded by areas rated in the 9th and 10th deciles for deprivation. Those constitute some of the most highly deprived neighbourhoods in the country,” she said in her written objection to a district licencing committee hearing which opened on Friday.

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“The proposed liquor store is situated in the middle of a vulnerable community and near many sensitive sites which require protection.”

Other written evidence from Salvation Army alcohol and drug services specialist Alison Coughlan said licence renewal would be counterproductive to reducing alcohol-related harm in the area.

“The Salvation Army currently have 28 active clients who live within two kilometres distance of…the location of this licence.”

She believed renewal in an area “frequented on a daily basis by people in early recovery from substance abuse harm” would present an ongoing risk of them “chronically relapsing and consequently putting themselves and others at risk of harm”.

Hamilton councillor Sarah Thomson – who’s objected to the renewal of Smugglers Liquor Nawton’s off-licence – has been active in trying to reduce alcohol harm in local communities (file).

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Hamilton councillor Sarah Thomson – who’s objected to the renewal of Smugglers Liquor Nawton’s off-licence – has been active in trying to reduce alcohol harm in local communities (file).

Ashleigh Mail, representing the Waikato medical officer of health, said in written evidence she visited the store last month and found high-strength individual cans of alcohol were available at low prices.

“The supply of cheap, high-alcohol content options in a high deprivation area indicates the applicant has limited understanding of their community and how their operation can contribute to alcohol-related harm.”

Thomson also raised concerns about the way products were marketed and sales of single cans of beer and RTDs.

Police and a council licencing inspector were also opposed to renewal for various reasons, while there were further objections from a trustee of the Rongopai Community Trust and the general manager of Haapai Te Hauora, a Māori public health organisation.

However, store operator Sushma Kansal stressed in evidence to the committee that she was committed to operating responsibly in compliance with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.

“Having owned this store for so long I feel part of the community and I understand my responsibilities in operating this store and ensure that my staff and I comply with the Act,” said Kansal, the sole director of Aashi Ventures Ltd which runs Smugglers Liquor Nawton.

Her lawyer Sarah Rawcliffe insisted Kansal was a long-standing “responsible supplier of alcohol” in the area who had worked to sort out various problems.

Kansal noted that the nearby Countdown supermarket sold single cans of alcoholic drink.

“Having owned this store for so long I feel part of the community and I understand my responsibilities,” said store operator, Sushma Kansal.

MARK TAYLOR/Stuff

“Having owned this store for so long I feel part of the community and I understand my responsibilities,” said store operator, Sushma Kansal.

But Thomson also raised the fact that the applicant had recently been in breach of employment law and had a history of compliance issues, including sales to minors and another rule breach.

She accepted these incidents were “historical” but noted another breach related to minors by another operation Kansal controls in 2019.

Besides objecting to renewal, Thomson asked that the committee consider imposing conditions to minimise alcohol-related harm from the premises.

Before the hearing, Thomson said it was important to hold such liquor stores to account and ensure they adhere to correct standards.

This was the first renewal she had objected to completely and she would continue to challenge renewals on a case-by-case basis.

Thomson said her previous work in community law had exposed her directly to the social harm alcohol can cause, adding she wasn’t trying to stop people drinking but wanted to minimise such harm.

The fact that a Hamilton local alcohol policy to help control sales had been de-railed by supermarket opposition “increases the importance of looking at these renewals on a case-by-case basis”.

She also noted there were another eight off-licences within a two-kilomtere radius of the Smugglers Liquor Nawton store.

The hearing is to resume at a date to be confirmed.

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