Omaha residents are refusing to back down in their battle with Auckland Council over the planned introduction of a new freedom camping bylaw.
Council’s Governing Body voted last month to put its latest proposed bylaw out for public consultation from October 18 to November 28, despite concerns raised by several councillors over its ability to adequately enforce new rules or to add extra sites where freedom camping could be banned.
However, Council officers and Mayor Phil Goff stressed that it was vital to get a new bylaw with at least some restrictions in place before the current bylaw – which prohibits freedom camping except in designated areas – lapsed in October next year, or Auckland would be subject only to the national Freedom Camping Act, which generally allows camping on almost any public land.
They also stressed that the new draft bylaw had been designed to lessen the chance of it being legally challenged – a reference to legal action started by the Omaha Beach Community (OBC) residents’ association against an earlier draft in 2019, which caused Council to drop that proposed bylaw and start again.
“This is a controversial issue – there are those that want to restrict further, there are those that want to free up further,” Mayor Goff said. “What is important to us is not to try to make everybody happy, because we won’t be able to do that, but to mitigate the risk of a successful legal challenge by ensuring that any bylaw that we make under the Act is lawful and reasonable, and that has to guide our decision-making.”
Council’s principal solicitor, Katie Bexley, said all reasonable steps had been taken to ensure the draft bylaw was “legally robust”, including seeking an external legal review.
Following councillors’ concerns that the public consultation could result in more named sites being suggested where freedom camping should be banned or restricted, it was agreed that that any such sites could be discussed, assessed and consulted on but only after the bylaw was adopted, due to time pressures to get the bylaw in place before next October.
Mayor Goff expressed his frustration and said the important thing was to get at least some controls in place as soon as possible.
“We’ve been doing this for bloody three years now,” he said. “We’ve got to get a bylaw in place, but that bylaw isn’t there for ever. If we keep amending and chopping and changing around, we’ll end up with no bylaw in place and then no controls, so I think people have got to say ‘we’ve had a crack at it this time and then if there are holes in it, and if there’s a change in the legislation, we can have a go again’.”
However, OBC is continuing to challenge Council in the belief that, as some other NZ councils have done, it could bring in a more restrictive bylaw that didn’t counter the Freedom Camping Act. Spokesman and past president Graham Painter said Council’s latest proposal and public consultation was still flawed.
“Our position is that what they’re proposing is unreasonable, unworkable and unlawful,” he said. “The consequence will be that ‘campers’ in a self-contained stickered van can live on the residential streets of any suburb indefinitely. In practice, the coastal suburbs of Auckland and nearby attractive suburbs will be most at risk.”
OBC maintains that Council could and should take a much tougher stance in prohibiting freedom camping more widely, as it did before the Freedom Camping Act came into force in 2011.
“When is Council going to ask what people want? It’s a simple question to ask the people who pay rates, do you want freedom camping outside your front gate? But they’re not going to ask that question,” he said.“
This is clearly a case of officials wanting to bulldoze through and bamboozle their elected members and their constituents by providing them with misinformation in terms of what the Act requires.”
Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said in Parliament recently that he was in the process of overhauling the Freedom Camping Act and would be bringing new legislation to Cabinet, although he didn’t specify precisely when.
Freedom camping status update
At the moment, freedom camping is prohibited except at the following Council reserves in Rodney:
Port Albert Domain • Matheson Bay • Sunburst Reserve, Snells Beach • Sunrise Boulevard, Snells Beach • Parry Kauri Park, Warkworth
Under the new draft bylaw proposal, drawn up to align with what is allowed by the Freedom Camping Act, freedom camping in Rodney would be prohibited at the following Council sites:
Warkworth Town Hall • Leigh Library • Pakiri Hall • Ti Point walkway
It would also be restricted at the following Council sites:
8 Church Hill, Warkworth
Parry Kauri Park, Warkworth
70 Kokihi Lane, Snells Beach
Port Albert Wharf Reserve
Wellsford Community Centre
Anywhere else, freedom campers would be required to:
• use certified, self-contained vehicles
• stay a maximum of two nights in the same road, or off-road parking area
• vacate a parking space by 9am on the day of departure
• not return to the same spot within two weeks
The new proposed bylaw does not include reserves, as camping on reserves is covered by the Reserves Act 1977, where it is generally prohibited.