There is international interest in how to limit growth in alcohol availability in areas of high outlet density in order to reduce alcohol-related harms. Town planning legislation in Victoria, Australia, allows local government officers to refuse planning permits for new licensed premises on 'cumulative impact' grounds (impacts from existing alcohol outlet density). State guidelines (PN61) outline how local government planners should approach cumulative impact assessments. This paper explores officers' views and experience assessing cumulative impact in order to understand whether the legislation assists officers limit alcohol availability in areas of high outlet density.
Interviews with 22 officers from 11 local governments who were recruited with purposive sampling to reflect a range of licensing environments. Interview transcripts were analysed inductively, and content categorized accordingly.
Officers challenged the definition and relevance of the alcohol outlet density threshold provided in state guidelines. They faced problems securing relevant amenity data for assessing cumulative impact and pointed to the guidelines' inadequacy for assessing off-premise licences. They pointed to the limits of cumulative impact assessments as a tool for planning and were unconvinced they would lead to reductions in permits granted.
A single state-wide density threshold to guide cumulative impact assessments is unlikely to be a relevant measure for several local governments. A greater orientation towards municipal variation and alcohol outlet characteristics is needed. Further research is needed to investigate whether cumulative impact assessments increase restrictions on liquor licence planning permits and whether the adoption of local planning policies strengthens restrictive permit decision-making. International implications of the research are noted.