Undie 500 could do U-turn north

The years of the Undie 500 in Dunedin with the ensuing disorder and ugly scenes of riot police clashing with students in Castle St might be over if organisers are successful in moving the event north.

University of Canterbury engineering students association (Ensoc) president Michael Cook confirmed he had approached people in the Marlborough region to find a potential concert site for the event.

Dunedin, he said, was "completely cut out of the plan".

If the move was successful, it should mean the end of both the official, and unofficial, event in Dunedin.

But while Mr Cook was keen to move the event north, he had already been turned down for one possible site, and Marl-borough Mayor Alistair Sowman was anything but keen on the idea for the "conservative, rural area".

"Respectfully, Dunedin is the best place for them.

"Maybe they could contact the mayor of Kaikoura. They could go there," he said, joking.

News of the possible move has been welcomed by Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin, who said yesterday he was "very happy they are not coming here".

Mr Chin said he felt the event could be run with a minimum of disorder in another centre, without the influence of Dunedin students who had been part of the problem in the city.

The event brought disorder to Castle St in 2006, involving riot police, arrests and fires, and after the arrival of the 2007 rally, 69 people were arrested, 70 fires set and riot police were again required to disperse the crowds.

In 2008, the official rally was cancelled after Dunedin authorities withdrew the welcome mat, but more then 30 were arrested when partying continued in Castle St after an "unofficial" Undie arrived in the city.

Last year's rally was re-branded by Ensoc as a charity drive, but Castle St again descended into disorder, with 67 people arrested over two nights of partying.

After that event, Ensoc said last September it would explore options which did not include travelling to Dunedin.

Mr Cook said it would be irresponsible to just dump the event, considering the unofficial version that took its place.

He agreed with Mr Chin a Marlborough event would not be as difficult to control, without the influence of Dunedin students.

"That's why we're moving it away.

"Dunedin is completely cut out of the plan.

"We want to create a positive event that will benefit the community. We're not trying to hurt anyone."

Mr Chin said, in his view, the residents of Blenheim did not need to worry about having the same problems of those in Dunedin.

In Dunedin, there were students "of like mind", and similar age, and the two groups together had caused the problems.

"There is no university in Blenheim."

If the event was held in a rural setting, "I don't think the community up there will have any problem".

Mr Sowman said the owner of a winery in the area had turned the students down.

Mr Sowman said he would meet organisers, but was "very sceptical".

"Their reputation goes in front of them."

- david.loughrey@odt.co.nz


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