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Marlborough 'gate crew' lock up notorious car park

By: Stuff

Warwick Wynn at the gate leading to the Turnbull Drive car park. Photo / Chloe Ranford

The first thing Warwick Wynn does in the morning is open the gate to a car park. And the last thing his neighbour does each night is close it. The pair are two of 11 self-appointed “gate crew”, who have taken matters into their own hands and blocked overnight access to a notorious Turnbull Drive car park, off Taylor Pass Rd, south of Blenheim.

Residents became fed up last year with trouble-makers repeatedly using the riverside site at night to loiter and take drugs – often leaving behind rubbish, “drug paraphernalia”, damaged park posts and graffiti.

Wynn, who was new to Turnbull Drive, understood the car park had been misused since its creation, in August 2019, but that behaviour became less “inconspicuous” when people began to develop across the road.

Resident Peter Brogan said a neighbour that lived close to the car park had tools stolen from his property at the end of last year.

“The car park used to be used as a place for people to sit. We still get cars driving up and down the road late at night, around 12am,” he said.

Dean Ormsby, also from Turnbull Drive, co-ordinated residents on the morning shifts and took over gate opening if someone went away.

“My main concern was the youngsters playing in the park. We don’t want them picking up drug paraphernalia. It's not right,” Ormsby said.

Carolynne Hammond, who has lived on Laird St, off Turnbull Drive, for five years, said car park antics had left residents feeling a little vulnerable.

Hammond said she learned communities had to be responsible for themselves during her years in the Awatere Valley, so asked Neighbourhood Support to organise a meeting between residents, police and the Marlborough District Council. A meeting was held at Blenheim's emergency operations centre last November to determine ways the car park could be made less inviting to trouble-makers.

About a dozen locals attended, she said. Residents resolved to open the car park at 6.30am each morning and close it at 10pm each night.

The council stuck up signs around the car park warning of the new setup and residents began taking turns to lock or unlock the gate.

These residents were known as the ‘Turnbull Drive gate crew’.

A council spokesman said the council supported residents taking command of the gate. It even agreed to fork out $9000 for a street light as a safety deterrent.

Hammond said she was “chuffed” the council had listened to residents. The site had quietened since it began closing overnight.

“We asked to have a bollard [between the car park and the Taylor River Reserve], and they said, ‘no problem’. We asked for a light, they said no problem. We asked if we could shut the gate overnight, they said yes.”

Complaints about the car park had rolled in since it opened in August 2019. Included were reports of vehicles gathering late at night, timber borders being damaged, graffiti, and vehicles using the river reserve.

Marlborough community constable Russ Smith said behaviour at the car park had “really settled” since residents began shutting the gate.

“It's been really successful in terms of what the residents were after. It’s helped them to develop relationships with each other, too,” he said.

Police still sent random patrols to the area to check compliance.

Smith urged people with neighbourhood issues to immediately contact Marlborough's crime prevention team on (03) 578 5279.

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