The summer holiday period, coupled with Covid-19 restrictions on overseas travel, has seen a rise in numbers at local beaches.
Long queues have formed at boat ramps and parking at beaches has been at a premium.
Alongside this has been an increase in issues that affect public health and safety such as freedom camping and set netting.
Manly resident Debbie Vercoe says holiday weekends at the end of December and early this month saw large groups camping overnight on Manly beach reserve – a practice that is prohibited by Auckland Council’s Freedom Camping bylaw (except in designated areas).
She says families obviously intended to stay overnight, bringing pots and pans and children’s toys.
As many as 10 tents were put up near Manly Sailing Club as well as at the eastern end of the beach and along The Esplanade.
“Cars drove over the bollards to access the reserve at the sailing club, as well as driving on the beach,” she says. “A plastic tie was used to keep the outdoor shower running while they washed and cleaned their teeth. Washing was hung along the fence. The amount of rubbish was out of control – as well as bags left by the bins, there was paper, plastic and meat bones left around the beach.”
She says this year was by far the worst for freedom camping and residents made many complaints to Council, but no action was taken.
“It’s not a campground – we’re worried it will happen on upcoming holiday weekends. Council needs to act on its own bylaw and get on top of this.”
Hibiscus & Bays Local Board member Janet Fitzgerald says the problem extended throughout the Coast – from Waiwera to the Hammerhead at Gulf Harbour.
She says following complaints that she made, along with Bays members Julia Parfitt and Alexis Poppelbaum, Council confirmed it is increasing patrols of all hotspots, including over holiday weekends.
Enforcement has been limited in the past by budget but Council’s Licensing and Regulatory Compliance general manager, James Hassall, says the cost for the extra security will be split between Council’s Compliance and Community Facilities budgets.
“Over the summer holidays, Auckland’s beaches and reserves proved very popular and, as a result, Council received a number of reports of prohibited freedom camping,” he says. “Staff from our Compliance and Community Facilities teams attended the sites to investigate reports and educate visitors on the freedom camping rules. We also engaged security officers to patrol popular areas in the evenings. However, due to the volume of complaints received, we were unable to attend all the places where issues were reported.”
He says anyone indicating that they intended to stay overnight was asked to move on, and for the most part, did so. There were no referrals for prosecution over this period.
“Our preferred approach is education. However, we do have the option of issuing trespass notices and can also consider action under the Reserves Act, which can result in penalties of up to $5000,” Hassall says.
“We will continue to engage security officers during the summer, and our compliance officers are also making it a priority to visit these hot spots daily. They will work with the security team to identify any offenders and take appropriate action.”
New freedom camping bylaw
Public consultation was held last year on Council’s proposed new Freedom Camping in Vehicles Bylaw. The draft bylaw excludes freedom camping from all public reserves, where it is already prohibited under the Reserves Act. Locally, it brings in restrictions on the practice on the Hammerhead at Gulf Harbour and a full prohibition at Metro Park East in Millwater (which is not classified as a reserve). The proposed bylaw also includes four general rules that would require all freedom campers to use a certified self-contained vehicle; stay a maximum of two nights in the same road/off-road parking area; vacate their parking space by 9am on the day of departure; not return to stay in the same road/off-road parking area within a two-week period. Public feedback is being analysed by Council staff and will be considered by a panel in April. The panel will make recommendations to the Governing Body in May. If adopted, the bylaw would come into effect from September 1.
If you suspect someone is camping illegally, phone Council’s 09 301 0101 helpline, and include as much detail as possible such as vehicle registrations and descriptions of campers. This will aid any investigation and enforcement action.
More set nets laid at Hatfields
This holiday season has also seen a rise in set netting at local bays – at Hatfields Beach five were put out on a single day this month. Local resident Neil Henson has been observing the issue for 14 years. He says this summer the numbers have blown up – something he puts down to population growth. “The amount of people living in new subdivisions all over the Coast has put pressure on recreation resources,” he says. “There are higher concentrations of all sorts of activities on the beach – including boating, swimming and fishing.” Neil wants to make more people aware of the problem as he hopes the community will support Council imposing a set net control at Hatfields. He is currently gathering information via Facebook and talking with local board member Janet Fitzgerald and Cr Wayne Walker. Residents of Matakatia put their case for set net controls last year – this is currently being investigated by Council, and Neil says he wishes Hatfields had joined that push. “I don’t want Hatfields to be the unregulated one. It has to be addressed for safety reasons. The nets mean you can’t swim the length of the beach, and small boats can’t sail across either.” Neil asks locals to post comments and photos on the Facebook page Stop Set Netting – the information collected can be used when approaching Council for regulation of the practice.
Anyone who sees issues with set nets can call Auckland Council’s helpline (see left) or MPI, email email@example.com or phone 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224), as these nets often catch undersized fish and seabirds, or fall short of Fisheries Act rules.