Judge gags late-night din

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An Environment Court judge has clamped down on latenight outdoor noise from Queenstown bars. 

In a ground-breaking decision, Judge Fred McElrea last week dismissed an appeal by owners of Guilty bar to exceed noise limits on its Ballarat Street deck three nights a week from 10pm. 

The judge was concerned other nearby bars – and maybe those further afield – would seek the same rights.
“The court would not want to lower the bar for one of many licensed premises, only to create possible injustices for others.” 

Guilty had gone for what would have effectively resulted in a four-fold increase in allowable noise on its 70-person deck till 1am, McElrea noted. 

“To grant this appeal would be an ad hoc and isolated answer to a wider problem experienced by the people of Queenstown,” he says. 

McElrea’s judgement is a slap in the face for Queenstown Lakes District Council. 

In December 2008, two council commissioners refused Guilty’s original application for seven-day outdoor drinking and dining after 10pm. QLDC and the bar’s owners later cut a deal allowing Guilty a three-hour extension to 1am on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays. 

Guilty lawyer Rex Chapman described that agreement as a “considerable concession” by the bar in a letter to objectors. 

Judge McElrea said to allow it undermines QLDC’s proposed district plan change to tackle town centre noise issues. Such a plan change is needed given QLDC’s “apparent lack of monitoring and alleged lack of enforcement”. 

“We do not consider that the noise provision in the district plan would still have integrity if this application were to be granted.” 

McElrea pointed out the district plan gives as much right to accommodation activities
in central Queenstown as any other. 

“Visitor activities include visitor accommodation.” 

Former local mayor Warren Cooper, whose family owns an apartment building opposite Guilty, told the court about 2500 people could already be accommodated downtown. 

Judge McElrea: “That is a lot of people requiring sleep.” 

McElrea noted former Eichardt’s Private Hotel manager Victoria Shaw, another objector, had said commercial vacancies in Queenstown’s CBD might well be filled by more residential occupants, as happened in Auckland. 

Barry Ellis, who co-owns Guilty with Wal Hayes, says he won’t comment till the decision is issued in writing.