POLICE did not oppose a liquor licence application in a small Southland town despite opponents lining up to highlight youth drinking issues.
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 applicant, Otautau Hotel, has appealed the decision.
Strong opposition to the new establishment came from both a general practitioner and Aparima College’s deputy principal, who shared their experiences of living in the town of 1400.
Riverton Medical Centre GP 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 a new bottle store would increase accessibility.
However, police did not share the same concerns. Alcohol harm prevention officer Sergeant Hayden McNaught, of Invercargill, prepared a report for the hearing.
It shows police did not oppose the off-licence as 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, reasons for objecting include 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,” Sgt McNaught says.
He was not able to advise if consumption would increase if the licence was granted, or advise on what proportion of offences in Riverton were caused by alcohol, the Southland District Licensing Committee decision states.
Police said they were unable to comment on the hearing while an appeal was being undertaken.
A submission by former Aparima College principal Kaye Day at a similar hearing in 2016 indicates alcohol abuse by youths has been rife in Riverton 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,” it says.
“All three were under the age of 20. One was… under the age of 17. All three were under the influence of alcohol.”
About the time of the incident, Ms Day said youth crime statistics for Riverton provided to the school revealed numbers among the highest in the country.
She said, as principal, she had attended two alcohol-related funerals for pupils, and young girls at adult parties in the town were being compromised.
“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 said at the time.
“Minors consume alcohol at parties and commonly start at around 14 years of age. Few students in Riverton don’t drink.”
The 2016 GM Foods Ltd application was declined.
Salvation Army social policy analyst Ana Ika said the outcome was a win for the community.
“The object of the Act is to minimise harm caused by the excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol needs to capture and take into effect the anecdotal stories the community sees.”
According to data in its submission, police responded to 223 calls in Riverton, between 2016 and 2020, 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 might increase if the licence was granted.
A public hearing was arranged after objectors came forward.
There are four off-licence outlets in the Riverton 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 council could not advise on a timeframe for the appeal.