Civic group loses liquor licence fight

A liquor licence for off-site consumption has been granted for 145 Eleventh Avenue, Retreat.

A civic group, upset by a judgment that allows another liquor outlet in Retreat, says it wants to help other communities fight liquor-licence applications.

Earlier this month, Judge Deon van Zyl approved the off-site consumption liquor licence at 145 Eleventh Avenue, a building that houses a hairdresser and two vacant shops.

Mark Solomons, chairman of the Retreat Steenberg Civic Association (RSCA), said they would abide by the judge’s ruling, but they questioned the process that had led to it. There had been an “overwhelming” number of objections to the application as it was feared that another liquor outlet would aggravate the many social ills, including substance abuse and gangsterism, plaguing the community, he said.

Last month, a liquor licence appeals tribunal hearing was held by video conference where objectors outlined their concerns (’Retreat liquor licence litigation continues,“ Southern Mail, April 21).

Judge Van Zyl said the applicant had proposed several solutions to ease the impact, such as fixing the opening time at 11.30 am on Sundays.

In his verdict, Judge Van Zyl said there was no “factual basis“ for suggestions that approval of the liquor licence application would give rise to social ills or have negative societal consequences.

Mr Solomons said the RSCA had been at a disadvantage at the tribunal hearing as they had not had legal representation, whereas a lawyer had argued for the applicant.

“We, as a civic association, don’t have money to fight these things even though we had very strong cases,” he said.

He hopes the case can be re-examined: “We tried to present all the facts as best as possible, but the judge still saw it fit to overrule that. The applicant’s argument was that there was a need for the liquor outlet, but the resounding feedback was that there was no need. The already struggling community will suffer because of this decision.”

Tony Lawrence, who is not a legal representative but spoke on behalf of the civic and other objectors at the tribunal, said they were considering their next step.

“I have written to the Western Cape Liquor Authority (WCLA) to ask for a meeting to discuss the outcome to help us as a community understand what we’re up against when it comes to liquor applications and how these applications are approved… We want to know what the community’s rights are and also when there is a threshold for liquor licences in a certain community,” said Mr Lawrence.

The civic, according to Mr Lawrence, now plans to interrogate the WCLA processes and work with other civics to make it harder for liquor licences to be granted and to tackle illegal shebeens in neighbourhoods afflicted by alcohol-rated social ills.

Rebecca Campbell, a spokeswoman for the WCLA, said the judge’s decision was final, and extensive reasons for the decision had been provided by the appeal tribunal.

She confirmed that the liquor licence application had initially been refused but later approved by the judge: “The issuing of the licence is in the process of being finalised. Once the licence has been issued, trading may commence,” she said.

Mr Solomons said civic associations needed more support to fight similar issues.

Mr Lawrence said more research on the harmful effects of alcohol would give civic groups more power to object to liquor-licence applications.

Applicant Kirby Jacobs is relieved the process is over: “My application met all the requirements of the act and ticked all the boxes as indicated by the liquor board upon applying,” said said.

She could not understand why the liquor licence had been denied the first time, she said. “I feel that the liquor board is influenced by emotional and unsubstantiated objections, and a small minority does not represent a community of more than 20 000 people.”

The objectors should accept defeat and move on, she said.

“There are way more important issues to address in the areas they say they represent, and if they put as much time and effort as they did into this liquor license application they can surely make Retreat and Steenberg a better place for all.”