Police did not oppose a liquor licence application in a small Southland town despite opponents lining up to highlight youth drinking issues.
Furthermore, documents obtained from a 2016 application show alcohol misuse in the town dates back to the early 2000s when drunk youths burned down a classroom at Aparima College.
Last month, a proposed new bottle store, Riverton Beer Wine and Spirits, failed to survive a hearing process after concerned residents came out in force.
The decision has been appealed by the applicant, Otautau Hotel.
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Strong opposition to the new establishment came from both a general practitioner and the deputy principal of Aparima College, who shared their experience of living in the small town of 1400.
Riverton Medical Centre’s Dr William Grove feared alcohol had been normalised in the community, and said Aparima College had been struggling with absenteeism and cases of pupils turning up to school hungover.
Deputy principal Leah Fraser was concerned about the flow-on effects of a new bottle store increasing accessibility.
However, Police did not share those same concerns.
Alcohol harm prevention officer Sergeant Hayden McNaught, of Invercargill, prepared a report for the hearing, which has been obtained by Local Democracy Reporting.
The report showed police did not oppose the off-licence because they did not believe a new store would be at odds with section 105 of The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012.
Under the Act, an application can be objected to for reasons including whether the “good order” of a locality is likely to be reduced by a new licence.
“Police have no evidence that the local amenity and good order of the locality would be likely to be reduced, to more than a minor extent, by the effects of the issue of the licence,” McNaught said in the report.
McNaught was not able to advise if consumption would increase if the licence was granted, or advise on what proportion of offences in Riverton/Aparima were caused by alcohol, the Southland District Licensing Committee decision stated.
Police said they were unable to comment on the hearing while an appeal was being undertaken.
However, a submission made by former Aparima College principal Kaye Day at a similar hearing in 2016 indicates alcohol abuse among young people has been rife in Riverton/Aparima since at least the turn of the century.
“My first year of principalship was 2004. This year was marked by the destruction of a two classroom block in the school caused by a fire,” Day said in her submission.
“All three were under the age of 20. One was … also under the age of 17. All three were under the influence of alcohol when they committed this crime.”
About the time of the incident, Day claimed youth crime statistics for Riverton/Aparima were provided to the school, revealing numbers that were among the highest in the country at the time.
She said she had attended two alcohol-related funerals for pupils during her time as principal, and young girls at adult parties in the town were being sexually compromised.
The 2016 GM Foods Ltd application was ultimately declined, but not before Dr Grove expressed similar concerns to his 2021 objection.
“Riverton has a serious alcohol problem. Binge drinking is the social norm, and it is normal for adults to supply alcohol to minors,” Dr Grove stated at the time.
“Minors consume alcohol at parties and commonly start at around 14 years of age. Few students in Riverton don’t drink.”
Salvation Army social policy analyst Ana Ika said her organisation was at present fighting issues with the sale and supply Act.
The outcome in this case was a win for the small community, she said.
“The object of the Act is to minimise harm caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol – if so, it needs to capture and take into effect the anecdotal stories the community sees,” she said.
She did not believe the current Act provided an adequate opportunity to capture the stories of communities, particularly in the hearing process.
“These stories capture the tipping point of alcohol harm before it potentially eventuates in crime or requiring intervention from the police.”
According to data in their submission, police responded to 223 calls in Riverton/Aparima between 2016 and 2020 – an average of 44.6 a year – for codes related to alcohol misuse, breach of the peace, disorder, assault and intimidation.
Reporting agencies did not oppose the original application, despite the medical officer of health raising concerns alcohol harm may increase if the licence was granted.
A public hearing was arranged after objectors came forward.
There are four off-licence liquor outlets in the Riverton/Aparima policing area: Supervalue, Carriers Arms Tavern, Riverton Lodge Hotel and Colac Bay Tavern.
Appeals to district licensing committee decisions were considered and determined by the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority, a Southland District Council spokesman said.
The authority is an independent tribunal established by the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.
The council could not advise on a timeframe for the appeal.