The Hibiscus & Bays Local Board has got tough with freedom campers who were taking up a large number of car parks by Orewa Surf Lifesaving Club.
Local board chair Julia Parfitt, who says her personal view is that freedom camping is inappropriate in an urban area, met with Auckland Council departments to ensure signs were put up, just prior to Christmas, and enforced.
“I was almost at my wits end, so I urgently sought more resources from Council and worked closely with the enforcement team,” she says.
The signs were put in temporarily at first, but have now been made permanent.
Mrs Parfitt says that the signs cannot be put everywhere where freedom camping is causing problems for local residents – in particular at Arundel Reserve.
“We could put up the signs in the surf club car park because it was not included in the former Rodney District Council bylaw, which permitted freedom camping in self-contained vehicles on reserve land,” she says. “It is allowed under the reserve management plan for Orewa Reserve.”
In addition, the local board has had enforcement officers patrolling car park, and other local car parks, at dawn.
At Arundel Reserve, there have been a number of incidents where people were not in self-contained vehicles, or were causing a disturbance. Two were issues with trespass notices and another had to be shifted on several times.
The large numbers of freedom campers using Gulf Harbour car park was also the subject of many complaints.
Last August, Council voted to bring in an Auckland-wide Freedom Camping bylaw that will give Council staff powers to issue infringement notices. The process of enacting the bylaw is expected to take until next summer.
Mrs Parfitt says the local board will be making a submission on the bylaw.
Mayors get call to action
Twenty-two mayors from around NZ will meet Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis early next month to discuss the issue of freedom camping and work towards solutions for next summer.
The move has been welcomed by Local Government NZ (LGNZ), the body that represents New Zealand’s 78 local, regional and unitary authorities.
LGNZ President Dave Cull says while many freedom campers respect the communities they visit there are a number of issues that come when there are so many of them. “Councils and communities have been reporting problems as a result of freedom camping including human waste, littering, overcrowding and access to reserves being blocked by campers,” he says.
Mr Cull says it is time to modernise the Freedom Camping Act, which gives councils the ability to issue fines to travellers who breach bylaws, to ensure it is fit-for-purpose and effective and encourages a respectful and sustainable camping culture.
Councils have already implemented a range of tools including restricting access, enforcement of bylaws and education, however these measures have been challenged by the sharp growth of freedom camping.
“One of the key issues is changing the behaviour of some campers, and this could be helped by strengthening enforcement. Councils need to be able to enforce bylaws and ensure fines are paid, because at the moment there is nothing to stop those who do receive an infringement notice from leaving the country without paying it,” Mr Cull says. “This would go some way towards sending the message that freedom camping comes with certain rules and responsibilities.”
Appropriate infrastructure to support freedom camping, for example toilets and parking, and mechanisms to fund this, is also needed.