Young people spending Labour Weekend at Loch Laird have always caused problems for the Otematata community, and now the district’s leaders have banded together to do something about it.
Workshops involving Ahuriri Community Board members, councillors, local police officers and Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher started earlier this year to identify ways to reduce the issues.
Suggestions have included banning glass, installing lights, increasing security, bringing in food vendors and introducing tighter restrictions on alcohol.
Nearly 250 young people descend on the Loch Laird campground each year, many seemingly dropped off by their parents with large amounts of alcohol.
From there, chaos ensues – broken glass, damaged toilet blocks, drunk teenagers vomiting, and people attempting to drive.
Last year, St John was called on the first day to deal with “drunken stupidity” and fighting.
Ahuriri ward councillor Ross McRobie said enough was enough.
“It’s not fair on the Otematata community that they have to put up with this kind of crap.
“I’m very supportive of whatever comes out of our workshops to try and prevent, help support and look after the health and safety issues around people that are going there,” Cr McRobie said.
“The biggest concern, of course, is it might get transferred to another part of the district – that’s not good enough either.”
A solution needed to be found.
“We have to get tougher, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right kind of support around the community, both for the kids that go there and for the parents as well.”
There needed to be more control on the parents dropping children off, and education regarding the behaviour occurring. Many believed it was a council-controlled event, and while it was on a council reserve, it was not a council-sponsored or organised event, he said.
Ahuriri Community Board chairwoman Vicky Munro described the behaviour as a culture which occurred for decades. The young people were “trashing everybody’s playground”, but having them all in one area was the right decision.
“It works well as long as they can be safe and all parties need to take some responsibility for that, including parents,” Mrs Munro said.
“The issue is the safety of the kids.”
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said there was more work to be done, and the workshops needed to change direction.
“We’re just working on options and I will be at the next meeting. It’s a difficult situation and a lot of things have been tried in the past,” Mr Kircher said.
Emergency services personnel had been attacked with bottles in the past. It was unacceptable behaviour that could not carry on, and parents needed to play their part, Mr Kircher said.
“Parents are dropping their kids off, or letting them go with a whole lot of alcohol. It’s not a controlled event, and the risk of assaults and other incidents is just too high.”
The workshop group was looking at how it could make “meaningful difference” and could be putting the call out to parents to volunteer on the weekend.
Oamaru police senior sergeant Jason McCoy believed the issue had improved in the past 10 years, but not to a point that it was acceptable.
Police held concerns around the amount of alcohol being consumed – “which isn’t a minimal amount” – and that teenagers were being dropped off by guardians without supervision.
“It seems to be like a right of passage that we can drop our children off with their alcohol on the Friday, and then pick them up on the Monday, which is not OK,” Snr Sgt McCoy said.
“It’s disappointing, especially if those children are underage.”
It was a minority ruining it for the majority, he said.
“It’s only a small number. It’s not all kids that are misbehaving, but the small number that are there and are dropped in that area with no supervision . . . it’s quite concerning.”
Police were also concerned about people driving while intoxicated.
Waitaki district camp supervisor Simon Fox, who was not part of the workshops, agreed the majority were “good children” and the problems lay with alcohol consumption.
“To me, a lot of them go there and they binge drink and they’re not prepared for that themselves, and really, we’re very, very lucky that there haven’t been more incidents of people choking on their spew,” Mr Fox said.
Mr Fox, whose contract included Loch Laird again this year, understood young people went to the campground to relax after the school year, but once they were “tanked”, they smashed the campground’s property, and their own.
food options and parental supervision available could help, he said.
“Glass and the young ones don’t mix. But I would not like to see my general family camping people affected by a ban like that, because they are responsible.”
Another workshop would be held next month.