Northland's drinking problem: King of booze outlets

By Christine Allen

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Our region has almost double the North Island average of off-licences Christine Allen reports

Dr Clair Mills says the high density of alcohol outlets has a negative impact on Northland's drinking culture. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Dr Clair Mills says the high density of alcohol outlets has a negative impact on Northland's drinking culture. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Northland has nearly twice as many booze outlets per head of population as the North Island average - and the region's chief medical officer, Dr Clair Mills, says the region is struggling to cope with the social harm hangover.

The region had 15.2 off-licences for every 10,000 of population; nearly twice that of the North Island (8.2).

The statistics, compiled by Dr Michael Cameron of Waikato University, are being used by the Northland District Health Board (NDHB) in submissions to Local Alcohol Plans (LAPs), which are being developed in the Far North and Whangarei.

Dr Mills said every NDHB service was affected by alcohol misuse and harm.

In a submission to the Far North District Council's policy she called on the council to give heavy consideration to the NDHB's submissions, given the weight of research into social harm.

She also objected this month, along with a community constable and community groups and individuals, to an application for a fourth off-licence in Onerahi involving a proposed Onerahi Liquor Centre.

Dr Mills said the board could not put taxes on alcohol or ban drinkers' practice of pre-loading, but supported the restriction of access to trading hours and cheaper booze.

"We want to limit the density and location, and exposure for vulnerable people suffering from addiction," she said.

"We have a higher density of alcohol outlets here per head of population to the rest of the North Island ... it [alcohol] becomes normalised."

Dr Cameron's research found there was a statistically significant relationship between bar and nightclub density and violence offences in Northland, with each additional bar or club associated with five or more additional violent offences per year.

Statistics New Zealand said alcohol was a factor in more than a third of arrests in Northland last year.

There are 295 liquor licences in the Far North, 95 off-licences and 144 on-licences for hotels, taverns and restaurants.

Many of the 98 written submissions to the FNDC's Local Alcohol Policy called for a cap on the number of liquor stores and a reduction in trade hours.

John Thorn, chief alcohol licensing inspector with the FNDC, said he didn't feel "impoverished Far North towns need further retail alcohol outlets opening in empty shops, particularly for the youth and unemployed".

Representatives from the NDHB called for a ban on liquor stores near health services, especially mental health outpatient facilities and residential mental health drug and alcohol treatment services.

There are 219 licences in Whangarei, of which 68 are off-licences and 95 are on-licences.

Whangarei District Council is due to present its draft LAP at the end of this year and before further public consultation.

WDC group manager Paul Dell said the WDC had been pro-active and had liquor licence policies since 1990, with amendments in 2010.

He said the Liquor Licensing Policy (LLP) of Whangarei's District Licensing Agency would control alcohol harm in the district until a LAP was implemented.

"Two major areas raised by the people we are working with, towards development of a LAP, are to control the number and type of liquor outlets in our district and controlling where they are.

"I think it's important to remember that alcohol has been part of New Zealand's culture since the very beginning of colonisation.

"To bring about the practical changes to its use in our district in just two years is something everyone should be pleased with ...

"We fully intend to continue to create systems that reduce the harm that misuse of alcohol causes to society."

Outlet density (per 10,000 people)

• Total licences (between 2006 and 2011): 34.2 in North Island, 50.3 in Northland.
• Licensed clubs: 7.6 in North Island, 12.8 in Northland.
• Bars and nightclubs: 4.7 in North Island, 4.4 in Northland.
• Other on-licences: 13.7 in North Island, 17.9 in Northland.
• Off-licences (including supermarkets): 8.2 in North Island, 15.2 in Northland.

- Northern Advocate

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