By CATHERINE MASTERS
Supermarket giants have been beaten in the hard-fought alcohol battle of the West.
West Auckland licensing trusts are claiming a resounding victory by the people - but the supermarkets say they will be back.
Yesterday's results of a postal ballot mean West Auckland remains one of the last bastions of licensing trust control in New Zealand and the only one in the North Island.
The other trust monopolies are in Geraldine, Ashburton, Invercargill and Mataura.
As West Auckland supermarkets yesterday said they would continue fighting for the right to sell alcohol, trust representatives were popping champagne corks.
In a turnout higher than for the local government elections, nearly 60 per cent of voters wanted the Portage Licensing Trust and the Waitakere Licensing Trust to keep their monopolies.
The result marked the end of a bitter campaign which cost millions of dollars and deteriorated into mud-slinging on both sides. But the mud-slinging did not end yesterday. Supermarkets were condemned as arrogant for not being content with the result.
"It's a resounding, outstanding victory for the community," said Murray Spearman, chief executive of the West Auckland Licensing Trust, which administers the others.
"Now the supermarkets are saying, 'We don't accept that. We're going to be back in three years'. "That is so arrogant it's beyond comprehension. They just received a comprehensive loss and now they're saying, 'We don't want to take any notice of that' . . . We're surprised by it."
Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said the supermarkets were being poor losers - "and they can go and get their trolleys out of my creeks".
Portage chairman Ross Clow and Waitakere chairman Ross Dallow said the message to supermarkets from the high turnout and the result was clear, and it was time they took "no" for an answer.
But supermarket giants Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises are determined not to quit.
"Oh no, not at all," said Ted Van Arkel, of Progressive.
"Perhaps you could say 2003 wasn't when the West was won but we're going to have another go."
Customers had clearly indicated they wanted a change, he said. "But 41.5 per cent voted for a change, which is really quite a good groundswell of support."
Profit came into it but it was also about convenience for customers and the fact that supermarkets were losing money that should be spent in the local community. Beer and wine did not generate enormous profits, he said.
"It's driving foot traffic into our stores. That's really what supermarkets are all about."
And while the trusts have said the supermarkets spent $3 million on their campaign, Mr Van Arkel said this was "absolute rubbish" but would not reveal the amount.
"It's been a bitter battle because I think the trusts have really been buying votes."
By CATHERINE MASTERS
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