Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Auckland city drowning in a deluge of rubbish

Dealing with the weekend's excesses. Photo / Bradley Ambrose
Dealing with the weekend's excesses. Photo / Bradley Ambrose

Four in the morning on a wet Saturday and Auckland's frontline troops have gathered at the Viaduct basin to battle the escalating deluge of rubbish.

Entering a war zone is how cleaning supervisor Leon Lyford describes a typical seven-hour shift for him and his 25 co-workers, tasked with clearing up after hordes of drunken CBD revellers party into the small hours.

"I've had bottles thrown at me while on my motorbike and giant metal bins rolled at me by gangs of yobs," Lyford, 64, sighs. "I've had staff assaulted, equipment stolen ... and as for the foul-mouthed abuse, sadly, you just get used to that."

The Herald on Sunday last week reported how public-order offences in Central Auckland soared by over 27 per cent in 2011.

Angry shopkeepers and residents voiced their disgust at the sharp rise in booze-fuelled trouble.

This week, the Herald on Sunday joined the team at Civic Contractors, a Parnell-based firm which cleans up the city centre nightly for Auckland Council in a fleet of trash carts and motorbikes.

They pick up rubbish and deal with illegal dumping while also steam-cleaning vomit, chewing gum, urine and worse from the sidewalks and alleyways.

Supervisor Lyford has been in the job almost four years. He said the work was becoming increasingly dangerous and revealed some city centre spots are almost no-go areas at certain times of the night.

His team dreads going to Gundry St, off Karangahape Rd, where prostitutes ply their trade and drug addicts gather after dark.

"It's the used condoms and needles you have to watch out for," Lyford said.

"It can be pretty revolting."

A few minutes away at Mercury Lane, he faced drunks who raked through bins full of empty bottles and smashed them on the road for fun.

Then there is Galatos St at the back of several nightclubs, where being verbally abused by stoned clubbers is all part of the job.

A quick trip over to Bowen Ave means clearing up glass from smashed car windows strewn on pavements, because the area is a hotspot for vehicle crime.

Lyford described yesterday morning's shift as "quiet", probably due to the bad weather and a big rugby match at Eden Park.

But he and his squad still picked up several tonnes of rubbish and were constantly looking over their shoulders for troublemakers.

"We try to work around the drunks and the bad nightclubs, some of which we won't go near until after 7am and it is light," Lyford explained.

"Picking up tons of rubbish every night from outside fast food places at the bottom of Queen St is one thing, but dealing with thugs is another. It is certainly getting worse."

John Carroll, general manager of Civic Contractors, said he is proud of his team for doing an increasingly difficult job.

"From Monday to Wednesday in the city centre usually isn't too bad but the aggro from drunk people and the mess they make is certainly on the rise."

- Herald on Sunday

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