OPINION: From a business point of view the advantages of declaring Blair St a car-free zone late on Friday and Saturday nights and early on Saturday and Sunday mornings are obvious.
Stopping the traffic creates an opportunity to set up outdoor seating areas. More tables equal more patrons equals more profit.
From a public point of view the advantages of the move are less obvious. Yes, the notion of young Wellingtonians sipping glasses of beer and wine at streetside tables in the early hours of the morning is an appealing one.
But the reality of Wellington's "party zone" is as far from that picture as Wellington is distant from the capitals of Europe.
Friday and Saturday nights in the Courtenay Place precinct are party nights. Party nights mean crowds of drunken young people shouting, falling over and, all too often, getting into trouble. Wellington Free Ambulance is not piloting a triage service in the area because ambulance officers have nothing better to do with their time. The service is there because Courtenay Place and its environs have been identified as a prime late-night early-morning trouble spot.
Whether the trial, originally scheduled to begin on November 2, actually goes ahead is an open question. Wellington city councillors were due to discuss the matter at their strategy and policy committee meeting yesterday, but the debate had to be postponed when it emerged that council officers had not got around to consulting Blair St residents about the idea. The discussion has now been deferred to November 14, meaning the month-long trial cannot begin before mid-November at the earliest.
If it does go ahead, it must be judged on the impact it has on public order, not bar tills.
Bar owners say it will give them greater control of patrons' behaviour. They will be responsible not only for conduct within their premises but also in the outdoor seating areas attached to their establishments. There is a degree of sense to that. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the worst incidents in and around Courtenay Place feature not bar patrons, but individuals who "pre-loaded" before coming into town.
There is also an argument for stopping the traffic to improve public safety. Cars and pedestrians do not mix. Cars and drunken pedestrians mix even less well.
However, should the trial go ahead, bar owners would be wise to recognise that the activities of late-night revellers are already testing public patience. There is no public tolerance for further alcohol-fuelled mischief. Any evidence that the trial is having a deleterious impact on public behaviour should result in the council pulling the plug on the experiment forthwith.
Wellington is a cool little capital. It wants to be a lively, vibrant city in which residents and visitors can enjoy a drink at times that suit them. But it does not want to be a giant, drunken mosh pit.
Bar owners and their patrons will need to be on their best behaviour if the trial gets the green light.
- The Dominion Post