West Auckland liquor licensing trusts get a shake-up

6:19 pm on 18 October 2022

By Tom Taylor


If going out for a drink in west Auckland, choices are limited to trust-operated venues, a new trustee says. Photo: 123rf.com

West Auckland residents have voted for new representatives on their liquor licensing trusts.

As the final results came through at the end of last week, 10 of the 17 trustees on the Portage and Waitākere Licensing Trusts were fresh faces.

A group opposed to the trusts' monopoly over West Auckland's liquor sales claimed four of those seats and hoped to enact change from the inside.

The trusts were formed in 1972 as part of an initiative to control the sale of alcohol in the wake of prohibition.

They return some of their profits to the community, sponsor charities, and occasionally distribute safety gear or household items like smoke alarms to residents.

But while some residents were pleased with what the trusts gave back, they preferred to do their alcohol shopping in a neighbouring suburb just outside the trusts' jurisdiction.

"People can always drive down the road to Mount Albert anyway," one Avondale resident said.

"I don't use liquor [stores] out west basically at all."

The West Auckland Trusts were made up of the Portage and Waitākere Licensing Trusts.

From Avondale and Blockhouse Bay through to Whatipu Beach and Te Henga, they have held a near monopoly over liquor stores, pubs, and taverns for the last 50 years, with only specialised retailers like breweries allowed to operate independently.

The presence of the trusts meant that unlike the rest of Auckland, residents of West Auckland could not buy alcohol at their local supermarket.

And if going out for a drink, their choices were limited to trust-operated venues.

Monopoly opponents successful

However, in the recent local government elections, a group opposed to this monopoly gained some seats at the table.

After the 2019 elections, the West Auckland Licensing Trusts Action Group (WALTAG) held two seats - one each on the Portage and Waitākere Licensing Trusts.

In this year's elections, they doubled their numbers to four, with two members on each of the trusts.

WALTAG member and newly elected Waitākere Licensing trustee Amanda Roberts was pleased with the result.

"We stood seven candidates, so to get four through, we're pretty stoked with that, and I think it does reflect that there is an appetite for change," she said.

Roberts joined WALTAG after moving to Te Atatū and being confronted with a lack of options in both the hospitality and retail sectors.

"For me personally, it involved walking around the supermarket for a wee while, looking for where the wine and beer was, and going - oh, okay, right, we're in an area where that's not available in supermarkets."

Roberts said as an elected member she would focus on giving more of the trusts' surplus profits back to the community, although she would not give a definite percentage until she learned more about the operations behind the scenes.

She would also be pushing for more competition through a referendum on the trusts' monopoly of alcohol sales.

In the most recent referendum in 2003, residents voted to retain the model, meaning no independent bars or pubs were allowed to operate in the area.

Roberts said this prevented quality "drinks-led" establishments from opening.

Very few non-trust liquor stores were able to operate in West Auckland.

Te Atatū's Wine Villa was one of them, having been established before the trusts themselves.

However, the store's licence was very restricted and only allowed it to sell wine.

Last year, three of the trusts' existing stores became Liquorland franchises, with one new Liquorland store also opening in Hobsonville.

However, these stores were still managed by the trusts.

Bid to hold referendum falls short

Last year, a WALTAG petition to hold a referendum on the monopoly in the Waitākere Licensing Trust area fell narrowly short of the required 15 percent of residents.

Over the course of three years, volunteers had collected 38,000 signatures, allowing a large buffer above the 16,910 needed to trigger a referendum.

However, an independent scrutineer found that many of the signatures were invalid due to people living outside the licensing area, incomplete details, and duplicates.

The petition fell short by 934 signatures.

The trusts' chief executive officer Alan Pollard said it made the board pay attention.

"We listened to the community in November," he said.

"The petition was 934 votes [short]. That really made us sit up and take notice."

Before Pollard joined the trusts in 2020, the group had repeatedly refused to release its financial statements, drawing the ire of WALTAG, which called for increased transparency.

The trusts still had no benchmark for the proportion of their profits to be returned to the community, although Pollard said $7 million had been given back since 2019.

"We decide annually how much we're going to give back to the community, but not as a percentage.

"It is something we've talked about, but we're running a commercial business in what are some pretty interesting times.

"So, we just have to be careful about the money we're giving away, that it's sustainable."

Pollard said the trusts needed to be careful with the distribution of surplus profits while they planned redevelopments of many of their hospitality venues.

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