No easy fix to downtown troubles

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Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden must be rolling in her mayoral chains – whilst it seems everyone else down here is rolling drunk in the streets, going by national media attention this past week. 

Yes, the resort is again making national headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

An alleged serious assault at a nightspot in the wee hours of a Saturday morning has left young man Jordan Sinke recovering from major brain surgery. Infamous Queenstown bouncer Jonathan Dixon – who says he wasn’t drinking that night – has been charged over it but indicated he’ll plead not guilty. 

Irrespective of the outcome of the case, Queenstown senior sergeant John Fookes noted back in May he wouldn’t be surprised to see more serious injuries or deaths as a result of late-night violence in the downtown party zone. 

“The difference between a guy waking up with a fat lip and somebody not waking up at all just may be down to the way they’ve fallen and perhaps hit their head,” he said at the time. 

Fookes’ comments came 18 months after the taxi rank manslaughter of 47-year-old Queenstown family man Mark Smith. Smith, in an altercation with insurance broker Paul Richards, was killed by a freak punch that tore his vertebral artery. 

The circumstances of the latest altercation that led to Sinke’s injury remain unclear – but given it was 3am, booze will no doubt be part of the equation. 

So much for Van Uden’s previously expressed desire that Queenstown not be known as a party town. 

The Rugby World Cup antics of the English and Irish rugby teams last September went global and did nothing but bolster its reputation as a party town. Add nasty incidents like this latest alleged assault, and it’s starting to look like a violent party town. A Sunday paper even quoted stats this week from as far back as 2008 saying you’re twice as likely to get violently assaulted in Queenstown than anywhere else in the country. 

Well, not in my experience. 

I’ve had my share of late nights and trawling bars in five years in Queenstown and can’t recall a single fight. 

I was punched once, but that was by Van Uden in jest after I annoyed her with comments on the Back Benches political TV show when it filmed at the Pig and Whistle. 

I remember National MP Michael Woodhouse looking on aghast after the mayor slugged me one in the guts, and saying to her: “You can’t do that.” Van Uden and I assured him it was all part of Queenstown’s robust democracy. 

Other than that, the closest I’ve come to an actual fight was when I asked a bar owner – in his own bar – the following rhetorical question: “Hey mate – why don’t you just f .. k off?” 

He came back with the insightful retort that I was the “gayest homo ever” before we started shoving each other. I doubt I’d have said what I did if I hadn’t been drinking – and you’d hope the same applies to him. Thankfully – realising we were basically being complete twats – we stopped, shook hands and had a laugh before anything came of it. 

No harm done. But the potential was there I suppose. 

I’m sure that kind of boneheaded scenario probably plays out fairly regularly around town but only rarely spills over into actual violence. 

But this latest nasty incident will give the police another big reason to keep flying the flag for 2am closing. And you can’t blame them for that. 

Some good things are happening though to avoid the circumstances that lead to violence and injuries. 

Council’s new Bar Safe initiative which aims to create a more vibrant CBD at night is one of them. Major bar owner Good Group has upped the ante on the security side by bringing in highly professional company October Protection. 

These guys are so slick, dressed in suits, ties and with ear pieces, that I initially thought Prime Minister John Key must have been partying in Bardeaux last time I was there. 

Will the planned CCTV network make much of a difference? I doubt it will as a preventative measure. Sure, it’ll be great for identifying culprits later, but I can’t imagine boozed punters about to have a scrap are going to stop themselves for fear of ending up in surveillance footage. 

One suggestion – perhaps council could look at a seasonal relaxation of late-night outdoor dining rules so 10pm isn’t the cut-off. A lot of people, particularly with this balmy weather during daylight savings, would be quite happy to sit outside dining and drinking till later in the evening. And it’d go a long way towards a change of mood and atmosphere – for the better – downtown.