Yob culture turns life in north's 'Party Toon' into a nightmare

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The Independent Online

The Restaurateurs, bar owners and club proprietors could hardly believe their good luck. It was celebration time at the local tourist board and as for the city councillors - they were delighted.

The Restaurateurs, bar owners and club proprietors could hardly believe their good luck. It was celebration time at the local tourist board and as for the city councillors - they were delighted.

Grimy, cold Newcastle had been voted one of the world's top party cities by readers of a prestigious American travel magazine with back-up publicity around the world, and many a glass was raised in anticipation of a tourist boom on Tyneside.

That was last year. Now the tourists are flooding in and the tills have never stopped ringing (or bleeping, Newcastle being a high-tech city these days). It's good news all round - except for the people who live in the city centre.

Last week the fight-back began. The affluent residents of the Quayside, which has some of the most expensive properties in the North East, with a three-bedroom flat selling for £150,000 or more, began to organise.

A packed meeting called by the Newcastle Environment Forum heard bitter complaints from residents, many of whom were drawn to the area by promises of cosmopolitan culture and café society. Instead they have found drunken yobs - male and female - who urinate in the "back lanes", have sex in residential gardens and threaten violent reprisals on anyone daring to complain.

The announcement by Home Secretary Jack Straw that the city's pubs will soon be free to serve around the clock has stretched their patience past breaking point. Now Newcastle's professional classes are saying that enough is enough.

"I wasn't expecting a rural idyll when I came here. But I wasn't expecting all the vandalism and trouble," said Karen Morrow, a 31-year-old law lecturer and Quayside resident. "I've had my windows put through just for telling some blokes to stop urinating through my garden gate.

"They talk about it being a city of arts and culture. As far as I'm concerned the art is how high they can pee on your wall and the culture is what grows in the mess that is left."

Rob Spence, a 40-year-old graphic designer and spokesman for the Quayside Residents Association, said: "I came out of my doorway and stumbled across a couple having full sex just a few feet away."

Just one square mile of Newcastle supports 160 pubs, 125 restaurants and 16 nightclubs. Around 80,000 revellers descend on "the Toon" every weekend, many of them making straight for the ancient cobbled square of the Bigg Market where brash bars with names like Liquid and Yell stand alongside the Duke of Wellington and the George.

Increasingly they are also heading for the nearby Quayside, a half-mile stretch taking in 14th-century oak-beamed pubs such as the Cooperage and the Red House as well as popular chain outlets such as the Pitcher and Piano.

But the residents' complaints do not get much sympathy from Councillor Kevan Jones, whose role involves promoting the "party city".

"I have to say, they have chosen to live there," he said. "I'm not saying they should be ignored but I believe they should recognise that they are living in the heart of the entertainment quarter of the city."

"What we are looking to do is to turn Newcastle into a cosmopolitan regional capital and that involves having a more relaxed atmosphere when it comes to licensing hours."

Sgt Tom McWilliam has been a police officer for 28 years and the city's licensing sergeant for the last six years. He believes nothing will improve until the city rids itself of the increasingly macho drinking culture.

"The thing that distresses me is to see women urinating in the street. The behaviour of women seems to have degenerated over the last 10 years."

But perhaps the most surprising opposition to the plans for European-style licensing laws comes from bar owner Keith Gibbon, who now runs three nightclubs, 11 pubs and two restaurants.

"There is no doubt things will get worse for residents. I don't know why they are passing a law which they don't need. Who the hell is going to stay open for 24 hours?

"I don't even think it is an opportunity to make more money. People only have a certain amount of money to spend on drink."