Last-minute police plea on Mount Hutton bottle shop

Lake Macquarie City Council voted last night to defer a contentious plan for a bottle shop at Mount Hutton after an 11th-hour objection by Lake Macquarie police.

The decision followed residents urging the council to conduct research into the links between bottle shops and alcohol-related violence.

Cr Barry Johnston said police had made an initial submission to the plan, signed by senior police, which did not object to it.

Cr Johnston alleged it was "very odd" that the council received a second submission from police yesterday, opposing the bottle shop.

"It could be a political issue," Cr Johnston said.

The second police submission said the plan was "not in the public interest" and the Mount Hutton-Gateshead-Windale area had "more than enough licensed venues".

The Newcastle Herald reported yesterday that Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione linked high rates of domestic violence to the proliferation of bottle shops.

Cr Daniel Wallace said Cr Johnston was a "sceptic", and the council should respect the late police submission.

Mayor Greg Piper suggested police may have had second thoughts and questioned whether the change was a coincidence.

The Woolworths bottle shop is planned for a site about 70 metres from Mount Hutton Public School, a key reason for residents' objections.

The council's public gallery was packed with opponents to the plan, including the school's captains Emily Rook and Josh Roworth.

The pair, both 11, addressed the council to object on behalf of the school's student body.

"Alcohol can cause antisocial behaviour and might bring violence and vandalism to schools," Josh said.

Residents' spokeswoman Jane Oakley alleged the council staff report, which recommended approval of the plan, was "inaccurate and incomplete".

She urged council staff to do further research to "fill in the gaps" on broad health effects of bottle shops, including links between "bottle-shop density and alcohol-related crime".

She said the council report was not strong enough to support a court case against the plan.

Cr Piper said "the advice they [staff members] have given is largely correct", amid concern that planning laws would not support a refusal. However, Cr Piper said Woolworths might reconsider the plan and "perhaps voluntarily withdraw" it.

He said that would be a "great outcome", rather than a "combative court case" that would cost the community financially and emotionally.

Several councillors, including ALP mayoral candidate Cr Jodie Harrison, indicated they supported refusing the development.

But after a long debate, councillors voted unanimously to defer the matter to gain a response from council staff from matters raised at the meeting and to consider police concerns.

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