Concerns for hospo staff amid boozy behaviour

Hospitality New Zealand branch president Matt McLaughlin. Photo: NZ Herald
Hospitality New Zealand branch president Matt McLaughlin. Photo: NZ Herald
Hospitality staff are nervous about walking home following a brawl on Wellington's Courtenay Place, which comes amid escalating anti-social behaviour in the city.

There are reports of security staff being spat on and physically abused for refusing to let intoxicated punters through the door.

One person who allegedly refused to pay for their drinks decided to turn off the gas supply to a local bar in a heated dispute.

The issue is not helped by what's been labelled a "big black hole" that is Courtenay Place's Reading Cinema complex, or closed buildings on prime real estate like the former Molly Malones bar.

A person was stabbed and nine were arrested after police broke up a brawl in Wellington overnight on Friday.

The victim, who police believe was stabbed, was seriously injured and a 19-year-old man has been charged with common assault.

"Almost every weekend police are attending at least one serious incident on Courtenay Place," Acting Area Commander Inspector Dion Bennett said.

"In some cases we have been very lucky not to be dealing with fatalities.

"The officers who attend these incidents and security staff trying to keep the peace are also often abused or assaulted while trying to keep those involved and the general public safe."

Hospitality New Zealand branch president Matt McLaughlin said the current level of anti-social behaviour was "next level".

"We're turning a lot more people away at the doors and the issue we're seeing is people seem to be a lot more entitled - they want to argue with us and abuse us."

During Covid alert level 2 McLaughlin said he was spat on by someone who refused to sign in.

More recently, a patron refused to pay for their drinks and proceeded to walk around the back of the bar and turn off the gas main, McLaughlin said.

"Our security staff can handle being told to F-off, but to be spat on and punched because we're refusing someone entry because they're intoxicated?"

McLaughlin was also concerned about the growing presence of gangs and their involvement in the more violent acts unfolding on the city's nightlife strip.

"We've got staff that are nervous about walking home. It won't be long until a member of the public gets seriously hurt or there's a fatality."

Wellington City Council's network of about 25 CCTV cameras designed to improve safety captured the weekend brawl.

Community Services Manager Jenny Rains said while Courtenay Place was a hotspot, there was not a recent upward trend in the number of incidents recorded.

Lambton Ward city councillor Tamatha Paul said the layout of Courtenay Place could go a long way towards changing behaviour.

McLaughlin agreed, pointing to closed buildings like the Reading Cinema complex as a "great big dark black hole" on the strip.

The building was suddenly closed at the beginning of last year due to an earthquake risk.

Paul said she was disappointed to hear about the brawl over the weekend but it wasn't the first time she has heard about or seen similar incidents in town.

She said it was time to take a fresh look at Courtenay Place and what behaviour was being encouraged through the layout of the street.

Currently the area was built around cars, with low visibility and people cramped on the footpath queuing to get into bars, she said.

Consultation closed at the weekend for proposals to axe cars from Wellington's Golden Mile, which runs from Lambton Quay, through Willis and Manners streets to Courtenay Place.

"People having more space gives them the room to breathe, Paul said.

"It also means we can make more space for street performances and alternative things that people can do. So they can go out, have a meal and a wine, enjoy some activities, rather than going out to Courtenay Place to get absolutely sloshed."

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