Liquor bonanza 'taking its toll'

By Aaron van Delden

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The proliferation of alcohol retailers in Wanganui is unsustainable and taking its toll on the community.

That is the view of two local liquor store franchisee holders, who are disappointed the Wanganui District Council has not agreed to take a stronger stance against the establishment of new alcohol outlets.

John Sherwood of Mickey's Super Liquor and Jenny Murphy of Liquorland Wanganui say the four new off-licences set up in Wanganui since 2010 have saturated the market.

They say at least 14 local former employees from their two outlets and The Mill Liquorsave - in Victoria Ave and Somme Parade - lost their jobs as a result of aggressive competition.

In May, the Liquor Licensing Authority found Thirsty Liquor in Wanganui East - one of those new off-licences - had sold alcohol to minors on three occasions within a one-month period last year and the application to renew its licence was declined.

Wanganui District Council's community and environment committee last week rejected a recommendation to oppose any new off-licence applications.

Those objections would have been lodged with the District Licensing Agency - which is based at the council but operates as a separate entity - and treated in the same way as any other objection to a liquor licence application.

While that would not have guaranteed the rejection of all new off-licence applications, Mr Sherwood said it could have at least declared an opposition to the establishment of any more.

Both he and Ms Murphy admit the recession has impacted on their trade, with alcohol being a discretionary purchase.

But the economic downturn was nothing in comparison to the unsustainable competition posed by the new outlets, they said.

Mr Sherwood said that, even aside from the job losses, it had affected their ability to contribute to the community through sponsorship.

Ms Murphy said that, as a result of that competition, alcohol prices in Wanganui were reported to her as being among the cheapest in the country. She said a social impact study of bottle stores needed to be conducted.

The Government's Alcohol Reform Bill, which is still making its way through Parliament, aims to give communities the ability to set local liquor policy controls.

The pair hoped the council would take advantage of that.

A local alcohol policy is being developed for the council in anticipation of the bill becoming law.

Opinions were divided on the issue at last week's committee meeting.

Councillor Rob Vinsen disagreed with the blanket objection, suggesting instead that the council oppose applications made unsuitable by virtue of the history and character of the applicant and the outlet's proposed location.

Mayor Annette Main was also uneasy about endorsing such a hostile approach. "I share Rob's concern for the opportunity for new, quality businesses coming to Wanganui. For example, what if a new supermarket wanted to come to Wanganui?"

But Councillor Jack Bullock was firmly in favour of the recommendation.

"Go into town on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday evening and you'll see young people drinking and fighting," he said. "In Wanganui East there are three [alcohol retailers] within 200m of each other, so you can't say Wanganui doesn't have a problem with the density of bottle stores."

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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