Far North community leaders are calling for limits on liquor outlets and vape shops in vulnerable towns in a bid to reduce alcohol-related harm and addictions.
Kaikohe pastor Mike Shaw and new Te Tai Tokerau MP Mariameno Kapa-Kīngi said liquor outlets and vape shops are “targeting poor communities” in Kaikohe and they want something to be done about it.
Shaw also wants Far North District Council (FNDC) to deal with a long-standing problem of people drinking at a small park by a children’s playground located 10m from a liquor shop.
He has lodged a second objection over the renewal of the store’s liquor licence, which is currently before the council’s District Licensing Committee.
The liquor store manager acknowledged there was a problem with a small group of individuals drinking at the park but said staff do not serve them.
Shaw said the park, an alcohol-free area, used to be a place where families could relax,but they now avoid it because they don’t feel safe.
When the Advocate visited the site at 9.30am on a Friday, one man was drinking beer on a park bench, and there were dozens of bottle caps and broken bottles in the nearby carpark.
“These guys are sitting drinking under a sign that says ‘no alcohol’,” Shaw said.
“They think it’s their garden bar.
“You ring the police and they don’t come.
“You ring the council and they say they don’t have the power to enforce it.
“We don’t want the liquor shop to go out of business, but it’s not in the right place.”
FNDC compliance manager Rochelle Deane said the council’s Alcohol Control Bylaw was enforced “solely” by the police.
“Police have powers to seize and remove alcohol, ask offenders to leave an alcohol control area and arrest those who commit offences or refuse to comply.”
Police were approached for comment but did not respond before publication.
Shaw has been outspoken about the issue for many years.
In 2017, he and others worked on a local alcohol plan that would have reduced trading hours at liquor stores in the town, initially with support from the council.
When the major retailers fought it, however, the council “flipped sides” and opposed its own plan.
More recently, Shaw started a petition to try to get the liquor store by the playground moved, which has so far gathered 300 signatures, he said.
He plans to present the petition to the District Licensing Committee if a public hearing is held over the licence renewal.
Shaw said there are five bottle stores in Kaikohe, including those at supermarkets, which, combined with an explosion of vape shops in recent years, was too many.
“The on-licences are no problem.
“The issue is we’ve got alcohol outlets open seven days a week [which] are entitled to sell from 7am to 11pm, and there’s no current restrictions if another one wants to set up.
“There are four vape shops on the main street. Clearly, some people are targeting poorer communities with these addictive substances.”
The manager of the liquor store, who didn’t want to be named, acknowledged there was a problem with a small group of individuals drinking at the park “but we’re not serving them”.
“They’re abusing us. We are not serving them and they send another fellow in my store. If they’re sitting there drinking what are we going to do? New World is also nearby and they’re selling alcohol.”
He had complained to police about the problem and said others with concerns should too.
“It’s not a matter for us.”
Grant Hewison, secretary for Communities Against Alcohol Harm, a charity that provides advice and support about alcohol licences to local communities around Aotearoa, said Shaw’s concerns “are important”.
“It appears this liquor store is having more than a minor effect on amenities and good order.”
Hewison said Kaikohe had a high ranking on New Zealand’s Deprivation Index and “communities that are vulnerable are at greater risk of alcohol-related harm”.
“In vulnerable communities like Kaikohe, the number of liquor stores [is too high].”
Te Tai Tokerau MP Mariameno Kapa-Kīngi, who has a background in the health and justice sectors, said alcohol problems were “everywhere”.
“But with Kaikohe, we’re talking about a community with amazing people doing their best, but they’re fighting a big wave of poverty, depression and mental illness.
“Then rolls in this bright light which says, ‘Come and drink here’.
“It’s like vape stores ... the psychology of advertising and marketing are targeting the poor, the unwell and the depressed.”
Councils need to be “more aligned to being socially responsible about the issues of families living with depression, poverty and trauma”, Kapa-Kīngi said.
Health and social service providers’ voices “need to be elevated”.
“A lot of attention goes to P … but any police officer will say the drug that brings more harm and family violence is alcohol.”
With the council’s 2018 alcohol control bylaw currently up for review, councillors voted to continue the bylaw without amendment at a November 16 council meeting.
The decision is subject to public consultation from November 20 to December 18.
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering health, food, lifestyle, business and animal welfare issues.