The fate of a Flaxmere liquor store hangs in the balance, following an outpouring of opposition from community members.
The Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority yesterday heard the case against Flaxmere Liquor's application to renew its licence in a hearing in a Hastings courtroom.
While the application, submitted by directors Sukhpal and Chamkaur Singh had not been opposed by police or the Hawke's Bay District Health Board, Hastings councillor for Flaxmere and Hastings Ambassador Henare O'Keefe argued to the contrary.
He gave an impassioned plea for ARLA to "listen to the cry of the people of Flaxmere", noting the effects of liquor have created an "alcohol Holocaust" in the suburb.
As a social worker for more than 30 years, and a stalwart for the community, O'Keefe said many of the social ills within Flaxmere were "closely and intrinsically linked" to alcohol.
"As a foster parent to over 200 children, I have personally, along with my wife, picked up the pieces, picked up those broken families and put them back together again, well attempted to in many cases, and alcohol has been at the heart of it."
O'Keefe said having three liquor outlets in close proximity to schools and in a low-decile village was "criminal".
He referenced the murder of "harmless, humble, civilian" Kelly Donner.
Chairman of the Takitimu District Māori Council, Des Ratima also spoke against the application, saying the bottle store increased the potential for harm among the area's high Māori population, who were already disproportionately affected.
He stressed to the store's owner's that it is not a "personal issue" but rather a "people issue".
Their lawyer, Janet Mason, said if there was ever a "licence renewal application to be refused in New Zealand, it is this one".
Chamkaur Singh and business advisor, Dave Porteous, who lost his practicing certificate following a conviction of theft, gave evidence for the store.
Counsel acting for Flaxmere Liquor and the Singhs, Pervinder Kaur, questioned O'Keefe's motivation for opposing the application, noting it was local body election year for the councillor.
She also pointed out that he did not oppose a recent application from Flaxmere New World to renew their liquor licence. However, O'Keefe said he had not been made aware of the application.
She argued the Singhs trained their staff to "minimise harm" by turning away drunk patrons, and that the store had passed every police controlled purchase operation in the past eight years.
Furthermore, they said they would be willing to reduce its closing hours to 10pm each night, with the exception of Christmas and New Year's.
The authority, comprised of Judge Kevin Kelly and David Major, reserved its decision. It will decide the bottle store's future in six weeks.