Council conflict over freedom camping bylaw

Rod and Leigh Jenden of Arkles Bay (left and second from left) initiated this petition asking for Freedom Camping to be prohibited on the Arkles Bay foreshore (HM March 1). Mr Jenden says it was eventually signed by 1200 people from all over Auckland. Pictured accepting the submission are, from left, Crs Wayne Walker, Greg Sayers and Linda Cooper.

Councillors, local board members and the public appear equally disillusioned by the process of creating Auckland Council’s Freedom Camping in Vehicles bylaw – a process that Cr John Watson describes as “a debacle”.

The process of forming the bylaw has been going on since 2017 and the draft is expected to go before Council for a decision either on June 27, or July 25.

The bylaw’s aim was to enable proactive management and enforcement of freedom camping.

However, along the way there has been confusion and confrontation at Council meetings, the walkout of one panel member – Tau Henare of the Independent Maori Statutory Board, a call by Rodney Cr Greg Sayers for the bylaw to be withdrawn and re-written, and accusations that communities all over Auckland are having their views ignored.

Angry residents made their feelings known at public meetings during the consultation period, including one in Orewa (HM March 1), and there have also been heated exchanges between councillors who sit on the Regulatory Committee. There are disputes between some councillors as to what the provisions of the Freedom Camping Act actually mean for roadside areas, and a coding error found in some submissions meant that a new report had to be prepared by staff, delaying deliberations by more than a month.

The submission process itself also created confusion. Even where camping is already prohibited on public reserves, people feel that if sites are not specifically included in the bylaw as ‘prohibited’, there will not be sufficient enforcement to stop freedom campers.
A number of locals who made submissions on the proposed bylaw attended two days of deliberations at the end of last month and say it was a frustrating experience and their submissions were not properly considered.

One Orewa resident who attended the panel’s deliberations, Emma Hicking, says the problems started early on, when Council staff selected 422 sites where freedom camping could be prohibited or restricted.

Under the Freedom Camping Act, Council has to have evidence that harm is being caused environmentally, or that there are health and safety or access issues before it can restrict the activity at a particular site.

Locally the sites proposed for prohibition or restrictions include Arundel Reserve, Kinloch Reserve, Loop Rd Reserve, Orewa North Lookout, Orewa Reserve, Remembrance Reserve and Western Reserve, Silverdale War Memorial Park, Metro Park East, Swann Beach Reserve, Whale Cove Reserve, Fisherman’s Rock Reserve, Little Manly Reserve, Manly Park (boat ramp area) and Red Beach waterfront reserve.

“It was a hit and miss selection process,” Emma says. “And when Auckland residents came up with suggestions of 80 further sites where there were reasons to ban freedom camping, such as Lakeside Reserve and the Arkles Bay foreshore, these were ignored.” She says at the deliberations, those individual submissions were not even read out and discussed by the panel.

Arkles Bay resident Rod Jenden says he is disillusioned by the process to date and waiting to see whether a petition he presented with 1200 signatures got Arkles foreshore reserve added to the prohibited list.

Cr Linda Cooper, who chaired the deliberations panel, says the panel’s recommendations, including any additional sites that will be added to the prohibited list, are still being collated and will be available in the Hearings Panel report once it is finalised. This report will be made public in the meeting agenda three days before the Governing Body’s June or July meeting.

Cr Watson says he and Cr Wayne Walker tried to get additional sites put on the prohibited list, but were voted down.

“There’s strong dissatisfaction among councillors on the Regulatory Committee about the shambles this has been,” Cr Watson says. “There have been no visits to sites that the public made submissions about and no consultation with local councillors to get relevant information on particular sites. Our area is one of the ones in the firing line, because it’s on the tourist route and there has been no account taken of that.”

Hibiscus & Bays Local Board chair Julia Parfitt says the main benefit of the bylaw for this area will be the power to impose fines for non-compliance.

“Better enforcement is what we’re after,” she says.

She and Cr Watson agree that there is an inherent conflict when freedom camping takes place in residential areas.

“People really object to the lack of privacy and the commandeering of public facilities that comes when freedom campers stay in inappropriate locations. Residents also don’t like the fact that public space and facilities are provided at ratepayers’ expense, especially when in places like Orewa there’s a council-owned camping ground just down the road,” Cr Watson says.

He says when this bylaw comes before Council’s governing body he expects there will be a robust debate.

“They are fired up all over Auckland about this and how to solve this mess is a real question. Public demand is for more restrictive practices and tighter controls and if that’s not responded to, then there will be a serious kickback from councillors and the community. Because of the way it’s been handled and what’s been proposed it’s turning into a major debacle.”

“You’d have to say that the Freedom Camping bylaw is proving to be more trouble than it’s worth. The only places it will work are where it doesn’t conflict with local residents and where perhaps a small charge could be levied to cover the cost of any maintenance as happens with part of Shakespear Regional Park that is used by campers – a beautiful, safe setting for campers and no residents to annoy with a reasonable charge to cover any use of facilities.”


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