Additional liquor outlets add to drunken incidents

Thursday 22 April 2010, 3:22PM

As many communities throughout New Zealand continue to protest about the number of liquor outlets opening in their neighbourhood, researchers have for the first time come up with a model that relates the level of alcohol-related harm to the number of liquor outlets.

The research was carried out by the Population Studies Centre (PSC) at Waikato University. It was commissioned and funded by the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC), and supported by Manukau City Council.

An initial database of liquor licensees was obtained from Manukau City Council in January 2009. Data for selected indicators of social harm were obtained from the New Zealand Transport Agency (traffic crashes), Counties Manukau District Health Board (accident and emergency event data, and alcohol-related admissions to Middlemore Hospital), and New Zealand Police (police attendances) for the period 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009.  

The model used statistical methods to relate the level of liquor outlet density to a range of events such as police callouts, emergency room admissions, and motor vehicle accidents, while also taking into account the effects of population density and social deprivation. Individual models for each type of event as well as an integrated model of all events were constructed, and the results were similar between the two methods. Data on the events covered the period 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, while outlet density was measured based on a survey conducted in January 2009.

Several key results were found relating to the characteristics of alcohol sales in Manukau City. First, on-licence outlets (bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes) were most dense in areas with good transport links, such as town centres, and in areas with high amenity value. This is because these outlets cater to consumers who are looking for a destination at which to drink, or where drinking is incidental to some other activity such as eating a meal.

Second, off-licence outlets (alcohol retailers, supermarkets and bottle stores) tended to locate in areas of high social deprivation and high population density. Higher off-licence density was in turn associated with lower alcohol prices and longer opening hours.  

The researchers found that in Manukau the addition of a single extra off-licence was associated with an extra 60 to 65 police events or incidents in the year to June 2009.  Each additional club or bar was associated with an extra 98 to 101 police events or incidents, while each additional restaurant or café was associated with an extra 24 to 29 police events or incidents. 

ALAC Chief Executive Officer Gerard Vaughan said in order for local body planning to effectively address ways to minimise alcohol-related harm, information about the impact of liquor outlets on local areas was needed. “We have now for the first time a New Zealand model that can be used by local authorities to show the impacts of extra liquor outlets.” 

Mr Vaughan said the Law Commission was due to release its recommendations to Government on reforming New Zealand’s alcohol laws next week. “Options being considered by the Commission to recommend to Government include widening the grounds for refusing liquor licences to include things like outlet density. 

“If the law is changed to allow density to be raised as grounds for refusing a liquor licence, evidence will still need to be produced of the harms that might result. This model provides the important evidence base for decisions on licensing at a local level.”

Waikato research associate Dr Michael Cameron said although the Manukau results were specific to that area, the model that had been developed could be used in other areas to determine what impact extra liquor outlets would have on a district.

The research showed higher liquor outlet density of both on and off-licences was associated with higher numbers of total police events.

In particular, off-licence density was associated with higher levels of anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol offences, family violence, property abuse, property damage, traffic offences and motor vehicle accidents. 

Density of clubs and bars was associated with higher levels of anti-social behaviour, dishonesty offences, drug and alcohol offences, property abuse, property damage, sexual offences, traffic offences, and violent offences.

Density of restaurants and cafes was associated with higher levels of dishonesty offences, property abuse, traffic offences, and motor vehicle accidents.

Total police events were based on all police attendances recorded in the New Zealand Police database from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009.  (A police attendance may not necessarily lead to anyone being charged with an offence.) 

Manukau City Council Senior Policy analyst Paul Wilson said the research supported what the community had been telling the council and could be used to inform the new Auckland Council on how alcohol-related harm could be addressed.

For more information or comment please contact ALAC CEO Senior Communications Advisor Lynne Walsh on 021 369 081 or ALAC CEO Gerard Vaughan on 021 549 848; Waikato research associate Dr Michael Cameron on 07 8585082; Manukau City Council Communications Advisor Sharleen Pihema on 09 262 8900 ext 8650.   

Questions and Answers 

Why was the research commissioned?

There has been significant recent debate over the impact of liquor outlets on communities in New Zealand. This has arisen in part because of the liberalisation of the sale of alcohol following the Sale of Liquor Act 1989, which allowed the sale of wine in supermarkets and grocery outlets and led to a substantial increase in the number of outlets supplying alcohol.  

In February 2008, there were 494 active liquor licences in Manukau City – compared with just 148 in 1990. Substantial increases in the number of both on- and off-licence liquor outlets have been matched with an escalation in the level of community unease about alcohol-related harm. Of particular concern are the more vulnerable communities of Manukau City, in which the high density of liquor outlets relative to other parts of the city is a notable feature.  

If residents are opposed to an extra liquor outlet, why do they not appeal to the Liquor Licensing Authority?

Under the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act the grounds for opposing an extra liquor outlet are limited. Significant issues such as social impact and the number of outlets in an area are not grounds for refusing an application. However, the Law Commission is currently carrying out a review of New Zealand’s liquor laws and in an issues paper discussing options round licensing applications, the Commission has put forward options including allowing licences to be refused on grounds such as outlet density,

The options being considered are:

  1. No change
  2. Change the law to allow the licensing decision-maker to refuse licences on wider grounds  

      than at present, for example, on grounds that:

    • the overall social impact of the licence is likely to be detrimental to the well-being of the local or broader community, taking into account matters such as the site of the proposed premises, the density and type of other premises in the area, and the health and social characteristics of the local population;
    • granting the licence would be inconsistent with the object of the Act;
    • the amenity, quiet or good order of the locality would be lessened by the granting of the licence.
    • the licence would be inconsistent with the relevant local alcohol policy.
  1. Allow the licensing decision-maker to impose any licence condition it considers appropriate for the purpose of  reducing alcohol-related harm.

        (d) Widen the category of persons who can object to a licence application.

        (e) Specifically authorise medical officers of health to report on all types of licences and licence 


        (f) Better define and strengthen the criteria for suitability of licence applicants.

        (g) Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the process for notifying the public of licence


When will decisions on the Law Commission’s review of New Zealand’s liquor laws be made public?

The Law Commission is expected to report back to Government next week. 

How did you develop the model?

The model takes a snapshot of information related to liquor outlets and measures of social harm for the Manukau region for the period 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009. The model is not concerned with comparisons with earlier time periods. 

The model uses regression analysis, a technique used to understand how a variable changes (such as total police events; these are often called the outcome variables or dependent variables) when another variable changes (such as the number of liquor outlets; these are often called explanatory variables).  The technique describes how the variables are associated (i.e. an increase of X liquor outlets is associated with an increase of Y total police events) but it does not necessarily imply causality. 

In this study there were a number of outcome variables examined including the total number of police events, A&E admissions and hospital discharges and more specific measures relating to anti-social behaviour, dishonesty related offences, drug and alcohol related offences, family violence, property abuse, property damage, traffic offending and motor vehicle accidents, sexual offending and violent offending. Liquor outlets were the explanatory variable involved and they were divided into off-licence premises, and two categories of on-licence premises (clubs/bars and restaurants/cafes). 

Regression techniques take into account the effect of other variables that could impact on the dependent variable (such as total police events) by accounting for or controlling for their effects, such as keeping the effect of other explanatory and control variables fixed. Spatial regression techniques are used when the variables of interest are spatial such as based on or affected by geography (for example all variables in this study were based on rates involving census area units) and where nearby spatial areas (in this case census area units) may influence each other and the variables of interest. Different spatial analysis techniques were used to deal with different types of spatial dependence when they were found to exist in the analyses. A number of different variants of the model were also tried to check how different model assumptions influenced the findings. 

Can this model be applied to other areas?

The modeling approach employed can be used in any area where appropriate data are available. 

Would it produce the same results in other areas?

The quantitative results would be different as our research has shown that the links between outlet density and alcohol-related harms are highly context-specific. However, it is likely that similar results would be obtained in some areas. 

How accurate is the model?

The model is robust to a number of alternative specifications. In other words, if we try the model different ways, we get results that are broadly similar. 

Does it produce a direct causal link?

Models of this nature are unable to definitively prove causality. This is not unusual – to determine causality we would need to conduct a controlled experiment. However, we can say that the observed associations between the variables are strong, statistically robust, and consistent with theory. 

What other New Zealand literature is there on outlet density?

The New Zealand literature on the impacts of liquor outlets is limited, but has grown recently.

Kypri et al. (2008) found a significant positive relationship between outlet density and drinks per typical drinking day among tertiary students at six university campuses, as well as a measure of alcohol-related problems. No significant differences in the effects were noted between Maori and New Zealand Europeans, but the effects were larger for off-licence outlets. Huckle et al. (2008) found a significant positive effect of outlet density on how much was consumed on a typical drinking occasion among Aucklanders aged 12-17 years, but no significant effect on either the frequency of drinking or frequency of intoxication.

A copy of the research is available at