Alcohol causes significant harm to people other than the drinker. A less studied aspect of such harm is how the sale and use of alcohol can detract from public spaces and can discourage or exclude people from using parts of their neighbourhood or city. These local impacts now have prominence in law; the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 requires ‘amenity and good order’ (how pleasant and agreeable a locality is, including noise, nuisance and vandalism) to be considered in licensing decisions. The Act was intended to encourage community input to licensing decisions, however concerns exist about implementation and whether the community voice is being heard by decision makers.
This literature review explores what is known about the ways local supply and use of alcohol affects the amenity and inclusivity of public spaces. It also supports a study that is underway (as of 2019) of such impacts in New Zealand neighbourhoods and in the licensing process. This wider study will inform potential changes to alcohol policy and licensing processes that will better protect or improve public space inclusivity and amenity.
- A number of surveys record amenity and inclusivity harms, but the extent and consequences of these harms have seldom been assessed. A small number of qualitative studies and local policy evaluations describe how public spaces are affected by others’ drinking, but most focus on night-time entertainment areas or town centres rather than suburban neighbourhoods.
- The impacts on local amenity and inclusivity are the most common harms experienced from other people’s drinking. Compared to amenity and nuisance issues, alcohol-related assaults, injury or threatening by a drunk person are reported much less often. However, these events are regularly witnessed, and contribute to perceptions of safety and disorder.
- Loss of amenity and inclusivity has a disproportionate negative impact on women, younger people and more socially deprived communities.
- People’s sense of belonging and feelings about their neighbourhood can be strongly impacted by alcohol supply and use. For example, some felt alienated from their town centre; others saw the character of their neighbourhood change, and some children wanted playgrounds free from alcohol use and broken glass. There is some evidence suggesting mental health and physical wellbeing may be negatively impacted by perceptions of local disorder and fear of crime, potentially through reduced exercise and social activity.
- Where there are more alcohol outlets in a community, there tends to be more crime, nuisance, disorder, public drinking and property damage. For off-licensed outlets specifically, density and proximity to outlets have both been associated with property damage.
- The scale of these types of harm is very substantial; in one year the cost of property damage (including personal belongings) reported in Australia was estimated to be AU$1.6B. Intangible harms were estimated to cost a further AU$5.3B in terms of lost quality of life.
- Alcohol bans and one-way door policies in specific locations can improve amenity and inclusivity, but there is evidence they sometimes displace drinking and associated problems to nearby locations. Alcohol bans may further marginalise young drinkers or rough sleepers, potentially shifting their drinking to less visible locations.