The thorny issue of freedom camping is again before the community, as Auckland Council releases its latest draft Freedom Camping in Vehicles bylaw.
This proposal has two key differences from the one that was thrown out by Council in 2019 after a controversial process that ended in a legal challenge.
While the new proposal has more teeth to exclude campers from reserves, it offers few other restrictions and opens up roads for freedom camping. This has been done to ensure there are freedom camping options, as required under the overarching Freedom Camping Act.
On the Hibiscus Coast, most freedom camping issues occur on reserves – especially by the beach. The latest draft bylaw excludes freedom camping from all public reserves, relying on the fact that it is already prohibited there under the Reserves Act. In the past, this was often flouted. However, changes to the Reserves Act in September 2019 brought in $800 fines for breaches.
Locally, apart from restrictions on the Hammerhead at Gulf Harbour and a full prohibition at Metro Park East in Millwater (which is not classified as a reserve) the draft allows freedom camping on most roads and other areas, as long as it’s in a self-contained vehicle and the stay is for no more than two nights. Campers must not return to the same area within a two-week period.
At the Hammerhead, the proposal is for a maximum of 10 campervans within a defined area. The Hibiscus and Bays Local Board wants to double that number, but only in the area that campervans currently use, in the seaward carpark off Laurie Southwick Parade.
The key concern for the local board is enforcement – members suggested revenue from the $800 fines could go towards this. They also want the restrictions signposted.
Currently the Governing Body is considering increasing investment in bylaw enforcement. Options may include contracting security services (similar to noise control), using mobile printers to print infringement notices, and camera surveillance with remote monitoring.
Councillor John Watson says excluding reserves will hopefully see an end to incidents he observed last summer when large groups camped for weeks on reserves by local beaches.
“This was often accompanied by anti-social behaviour and the commandeering of public facilities,” Cr Watson says.
He says there are still issues with allowing self-contained campers to stay in the same road for two nights. “Given that Council has to comply with the [Freedom Camping] Act but has limited compliance resources, that should be reduced to one night so there’s no doubt over the duration of stay,” he says.
Before lockdown, Council staff were scheduled to present a final proposal to the Governing Body on September 23, followed by public consultation.