The Waipā District Licensing Committee appears almost certain to rule against a tide of public opposition to a Cambridge liquor store and grant an off-licence with conditions.
The committee met in Te Awamutu last week to consider the application from Blue Drops for a bottle store on Victoria Street, less than 100 metres from council pensioner housing and a retirement village.
There is controversy over the process because an advert announcing the application appeared in a newspaper which objectors said they didn’t read. The objectors were not informed of the application.
Tainui-owned Māori public health provider Hāpai Te Hauora, St Andrews Retirement Village residents and No 1 Motel were among other parties who, having been alerted to the application by a Cambridge News story, missed the deadline for submissions.
Licensing inspector Mary Fernandez sought the views of the Cambridge Community Board, which also provided its views in opposition to the application after the June 30 deadline.
She included all the submissions, including those which were deemed late, in the agenda to the committee but did not include all the community board feedback or make mention of it in her verbal evidence to the committee.
Board chair Sue Milner, in response to Fernandez’s request, had said the board felt there were enough bottle stores in Cambridge and adding another one in Victoria Street would impact on guests staying in the adjacent motel and on the council’s pensioner housing residents and occupants in St Andrews Retirement Village.
Fernandez reported to the committee the board confirmed to her it was not aware of any recorded issues such as youth congregating, litter, graffiti or people noise.
Committee member Tegan McIntyre asked Fernandez what triggered so many objections to the application outside the required period.
“Probably social media has a lot to do with it,” said Fernandez.
“Although applications are posted in the newspaper, people tend to get their information using social media and it tends to be a lot of negativity with social media rather than positivity. So, it was word of mouth. That could be the delay in people coming forward.”
The News story ran on July 23 story. There had been no objections prior to that or within 15 days of the advertisement appearing in a Stuff-owned newspaper in May. The objections, except for the ones from the Medical Officer of Health and Police who were told of the application, came after the News story was published.
Last week the Medical Officer of Health was the only ‘official’ objector to the application after Police withdrew its objection.
Waikato DHB health protection advisor Ashleigh Mail also asked if it was normal to receive that many signatures from the public objecting to a new off licence, in reference to a petition from retirement village residents received after objections closed.
Fernandez said she had not received “something of this magnitude” but noted “it was just signatures, there were no addresses, no contact details.
“Because the date had expired for public objection, there was no opportunity to go back to the people who had signed it and say: ‘what are your issues?’ rather than ‘just another bottle store’ and that was what I was getting from social media,” said Fernandez.
“As a result of this I contacted the community board because anyone who had issues would have contacted the community board and they might have heard something. They hadn’t received anything other than ‘another bottle store’.”
Committee chair Sara Grayson asked Fernandez what it should consider about Victoria Square, a nearby public park within a restricted liquor place.
“One of the things I do when I do an inspection of the premises, I have a look at the locale and I look at wastebins and to see if there is any litter or graffiti. I didn’t observe anything of that sort in the area to see that it was attracting people drinking outside.
“There were no bottles or cans, or graffiti, or broken glass, or anything like that,” said Fernandez.
“I’ve got no concerns (about Victoria Square).”
In her summing up, the applicants’ counsel Pervinder Kaur said her clients met all their obligations under the Act.
She was critical of the Medical Officer of Health who she said had not provided any detail to support its submission against the application.
“The applicant should not have to be guessing what the MOH’s case is. The rules of natural justice required the applicant should know the case it has to answer before the close of evidence.”
The committee adjourned the hearing to allow the applicant time to produce a detailed floor plan.
Blue Drops directors Avtar and Kawljeet Singh, who told the hearing they bought the building on November 26, had already agreed to other conditions which included an undertaking to do no external advertising, no single bottle sales under 500mls and to frost the front windows up to 1.5m so the public, particularly school children, could not look in and see liquor in the store.
Grayson said the committee expected to make a decision before Christmas.