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Plans to close two Wellington streets to prevent alcohol pre-loading

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Pre-loading party-goers in Wellington’s Courtenay Place may force authorities to close two busy bar streets, but critics say it would be overkill.

Excessive drinking is causing so much concern for people’s welfare and damage to cars that Wellington City Council wants to close Blair and Allen streets to vehicles from 10pm, on Friday and Saturday nights.

Part of the proposal includes employing security guards to keep watch until the streets open at 5am and tow any vehicles still parked in the street.

The initiative is one idea from a forum put together to reduce alcohol-related harm in the capital’s party area. The move comes after Chaffers New World supermarket was granted a liquor licence. A year earlier its car park was dubbed  Wellington’s ‘Fight Club’.

Police raised concerns after CCTV of the car park  – just 30 metres from Courtenay Place – a hot spot for pre-loading and after-hours weekend crime, revealed footage of the assaults, disorder, public urination and alcohol abuse.

Senior sergeant Graham Shields of Wellington Police District Alcohol Harm Prevention Unit, said police were supporting the council-led initiative.

“At present the streets are open to traffic. Changes could open up space for pedestrians and give the licensed outlets more space to set up patron queuing areas. That will make it easier for the door staff to identify intoxicated patrons.”

Changes would also improve lines of sight so police and security could see what was going on, he said.

Restaurant Association national president and Wellington restaurateur Mike Egan said a similar initiative had been tried about six years ago and failed.

Egan, who owns Monsoon Poon on Blair St, said the closure would be “problematic”.

“It was expensive to hire security, and hi-vis vests are not a good look – they put normal patrons off the area.”

Many people who went out for dinner or to watch a show used the car parks after 10pm, he said.

The main problems on the streets happened between midnight and 3am, so he did not see any point in hiring security for such a long period.

“We need to review the days and times and get more information.”

Council project manager Phil Becker said revellers parked up and preloaded in the streets.

Drunkenness and damage to property in public spaces went hand-in-hand, and closing the streets was one of the tools to help manage the situation, he said.

The proposal would be taking a different approach to the previous initiative, he said.

It was one of four work streams for the Courtenay Place precinct.

The forum was also looking at a social media campaign, collecting all the data on alcohol-related harm held by different parties and setting up an ‘eyes-on’ drunk people network, similar to that used by the retail sector.

More than 400 CBD retailers share CCTV footage and images of offenders with a security company, which immediately sends a text message and email “warning” alert to other retailers.

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson said closure was not the right approach and would be a logistical nightmare.

“With the film museum and expansion of the Museum Hotel it’s important the area takes on a more cosmopolitan feel. A sea of fluorescent jackets and vehicles being plucked from the street is not that feel.”

Source: The Dominion Post, 27 April, 2017

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