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Church battles major corporate to block grog shop

By Paul Titus

A Manukau church is opposing the application of one of NZ’s biggest companies to open a liquor store in its neighbourhood.

Those heading up Trinity Pakuranga’s efforts to stop Foodstuffs from putting a large liquor store in their neighbourhood are (from left) George Tyler, Barrie Crichton, and Rev Prince Devanandan. Photo courtesy Howick and Pakuranga Times

When the leaders’ meeting at Trinity Methodist Pakuranga learned last year that Foodstuffs (owner of New World, Pak 'N Save, and Four Square supermarkets) was planning to turn the empty Pizza Hut building next door to the church into a liquor outlet, it decided to take action.

As in many of the country’s urban centres, alcohol related crime and violence has become a serious problem in Manukau. And the site of the proposed store is very close to areas young people gather.

The church mobilised to alert the community to the proposed liquor store and oppose its consent application before Manukau City Council. Its efforts to block the store have had some success but the fight is not over yet.

Howick Pakuranga Leaders Meeting secretary George Tyler explains the context for the church’s actions. They include the increase in the number of liquor outlets in Manukau from 44 in 1990 to 270 today. Within the last 15 months Pakuranga has had two alcohol related murders and three riots where the police had to be called in to deal with drunken young people.

"Within 1km of the proposed store there are nine existing liquor retailers, including two supermarkets. Neither of the supermarkets is in the Foodstuffs group, and the application aims to get Foodstuffs in on Howick-Pakuranga’s liquor trade," George says.

"The proposed store on Pakuranga Road is surrounded by young people. Pakuranga College is half a block away, netball headquarters and other sports clubs are across the street in Elsmore Park, and we have a kindergarten on the church property next door.

"Despite the community interest in this issue, the council agreed to the applicant’s request for limited notification for the resource consent. This meant that only the properties directly adjoining the proposed site – the church and one residential home – were allowed to make official submissions about the application."

At this point the congregation got organised. They contacted other interested parties in the neighbourhood and parish steward Barrie Crichton wrote a press release that was picked up by local media.

The attention generated plenty of opposition to the application. George says the council and Liquor Licensing Authority each received more than 50 letters opposing the proposal and Pakuranga Community Board member Mike Padfield received 300 responses against it.

In its submission the church opposed resource consent on the basis of the inadequacies of the application as well as the surfeit of liquor outlets in the area.

"In its application Foodstuffs used an out of date photo of the church which does not show our new parsonage and six new residential buildings," George says.

"They also attempted to apply for the consent on the basis of general retail activity rather than liquor sales. We argue that the social issues and traffic flows resulting from a liquor retailer would be quite different than say a dress shop."

Foodstuffs submitted its resource consent application in late January. In early February it withdrew from the process. While it has put the project on hold, it has not abandoned it all together.

In an interview with the Howick and Pakuranga Times, Foodstuffs general manager for property development Murray Jordan says the project has been deferred for a year. This is a business decision and not based on the public outcry that met the proposal.

Trinity Pakuranga minister Rev Prince Devanandan says the church will continue to oppose the liquor store. The furore comes at a time when police and the public are increasingly concerned about alcohol abuse by young people and are starting to take steps against it.

Manukau mayor Len Brown wants the council to have the power to reduce the number of liquor outlets within its jurisdiction as it does regarding pokie machines. Manurewa MP George Hawkins has sponsored a bill in Parliament that would require social and economic impacts to be an element in all consents for new liquor retailers, which is not the case now.