Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Shock at culture of booze on Queen St

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The centre of Auckland is a 24-hour destination that the council and police want to be safe for everyone.  Photo / Bradley Ambrose
The centre of Auckland is a 24-hour destination that the council and police want to be safe for everyone. Photo / Bradley Ambrose

A man who walked his partner to work after he was harassed and chased by drunks on Auckland's main street was disgusted at the level of drunken fighting, vomiting and vandalism he saw.

But there are hopes a change to alcohol laws will reduce the weekend carnage in the CBD.

Scott Swanson was shocked at the state of Queen St at 5am on Saturday.

"Three weeks ago my partner was walking to work at 5am. Somebody chased him, he needed to run. He was harassed and yelled at," he said.

"The second weekend someone tried to pick a fight with him. People had to jump in to stop it."

Last week he decided to walk with his partner to see it for himself.

"It's fine on other days, it's just the weekend that it's bad. I was pretty shocked with what I saw between 4.30am and 6am.

"There were a thousand people drunk on the street. There were people throwing up.

There were two groups of guys rough-housing, six to eight of them ruckusing. Someone was kicking a phone booth. I have no problem with people going out and having a good time, but it was a bit dangerous."

In a bid to reduce drunken disorder in the area, police have teamed up with the Auckland Council to create a local alcohol policy to be introduced after the Alcohol Reform Bill is passed later this year.

Reforms include tightening up alcohol laws and reducing the availability of booze.

It will also give local communities a greater say in licensing decisions, such as the siting of bottle stores and opening hours.

Police say the changes are the key to reducing the weekend carnage.

With premises open all hours, people drank more and for longer - creating havoc.

Auckland City Central area commander Inspector Andrew Coster said while there had been a reduction in serious assaults in the CBD in recent years, drinking was still a big issue. He said year-to-date figures showed a 4 per cent reduction in serious assaults in the area, compared with last year, and a 15 per cent reduction against the three-year average.

"It's important to get the perspective right. In terms of actual safety we're in as good a place as we've been in the last three years," he said.

But, perception of safety was not what it should be. People often felt unsafe after seeing alcohol-spurred disorder.

Mr Coster said there was an "uncomfortable" overlap between the CBD's entertainment and work hours where people coming in to their jobs were seeing the drunk and disorderly behaviour of those still out from the night before.

He said some bars had voluntarily implemented alcohol policies that were working well.

"Like the one-way door policy where if you're in a bar at 2am you can stay in, but you can't go in after that.

"We're looking forward to some of these things which we know will reduce alcohol-related harm being incorporated into the new alcohol legislation."

Mayor Len Brown agreed that safety was paramount.

"It's my determination that spending time in Queen St is an enjoyable and safe experience whatever the time of day," he said. "However it is fair to say this can be a challenge at times as a result of excessive drinking. Serious assaults are down in the central city so we are succeeding at some levels, but there is still work to be done.

"One of the best opportunities to do this is through the Alcohol Reform Bill currently before Parliament and the local alcohol plans that will follow."

Auckland's city centre business association Heart of the City manager Tania Loveridge supported moves to enhance safety.

"We recognise that alcohol contributes to antisocial behaviour," she said.

"The Auckland CBD is a 24-hour destination. We want to make it as safe and as fun as possible."

She said the group would be open to a one-way door policy, which was running successfully in Christchurch's CBD.

"As a general idea, it's certainly something we would support in principle, and we'll be getting actively involved in that."

- NZ Herald

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