Axe falls on Maitai party

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 19/07/2013

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The Maitai Valley Motor Camp might have held its last New Year's Eve party, as the Nelson police and city council withdraw support in a move to reduce the risks posed by underage drinking.

Camp manager Carol Wood said it was unlikely that there would be a Youth Summer Camp in the valley this year - "not without the support of the council and police".

Councillor and community services portfolio holder Pete Rainey confirmed that the council has moved to withdraw support of the B4 New Year's party.

B4 New Year's has become a popular summer event for young people since the first party in 2003, with mostly 16 and 17-year-old campers arriving from as far away as Christchurch, Blenheim, Auckland and Dunedin.

Attendance has ranged from 800 to 2500 people, and services have included food, 24-hour security and medical staff, as well as live music.

Now Nelson police have also pulled their support, with area commander Steve Greally saying it was only a matter of time before there was a serious crime, serious injury or death at the youth event.

"Obviously there was an issue with underage drinking," Mr Rainey said.

The council commissioned a report about risks and liabilities and decided to amend its contract with Kevrol and manager Ms Wood, who had previously been obliged to host an annual event on the council-owned site.

"The council isn't saying they can't have the camp, they are just no longer requiring them to," Mr Rainey said.

The report said the New Year's party cost between $90,000-100,000 each year, and was usually run at a loss by Kevrol. Expensive services included extra security, health and safety support workers, a nurse, an ambulance, entertainment and activities, and close liaison with police and Maori Wardens.

The cleanup took two days, and repairs to the camp infrastructure were usually needed, Ms Wood said.

Since 2011 the council had provided Kevrol with an annual grant of $10,000 towards medical and security services, entertainment, and extra ablutions.

Ms Wood said the grant helped, but did not cover her losses.

Thousands of young people camped at Maitai each summer, and she was worried about where they would go and what they would do this New Year's Eve.

Last year there were 1037 campers present on December 31, mostly under 18.

"I totally agreed with the idea of the camp at the beginning. Young people needed somewhere safe to be on New Year's Eve at 3.30am, rather than tearing through town," Ms Wood said.

The first Maitai Valley summer camps were established after drunken riots at the Tahunanui campground in 2002.

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"It was set up to keep the youth in one place, where they were supervised, and we could keep them safe.

"And it worked. It kept them all busy and dancing, so they were drinking less," Ms Wood said.

"I am a bit sad about it. But the risks involved were always high. The safety of the kids has always been my main concern."

She believed the youth drinking culture had become more dangerous in recent years with the rise of party pills and other widely available legal drugs. "Now the teens are going to be out there on the streets or at the beach, still drinking, and still popping pills."

Mr Rainey said Nelson was a popular place for youth over summer and the council had some responsibility to put on events for them.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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