Omaha challenges freedom camping bylaw

Greg Sayers at one of the long parking bays on a residential street in Omaha, just minutes from the beach. Residents fear the bays will fill up with freedom campers who will stay forever.

A legal challenge mounted by the Omaha Beach Community (OBC) residents and ratepayers group has successfully stalled moves to introduce a controversial new freedom camping bylaw.

The bylaw was due to be voted on by Auckland Council’s Governing Body last week, but the vote was deferred after Mayor Phil Goff advised councillors in an email that the freedom camping bylaw process needed to be paused while “legal implications are considered”.

Mr Goff told councillors that Council had received a letter from lawyers representing Omaha residents that challenged the way the freedom camping bylaw had been consulted on and “raised specific issues around reserves in that area”.

OBC president Chris Allan says the letter was sent after lawyers Bob Hollyman QC and Brian Latimour advised OBC that Council’s proposed bylaw and consultation process was unlawful.

Mr Allan says a major concern of OBC is that Council consultation material failed to highlight the effect the proposed bylaw would have on Omaha roadsides, berms and parking bays.

He says under the proposed bylaw these areas would be “open slather”.
“In the summer months, people could just come and park there and stay forever,” he says.

And he says while the proposed bylaw would limit freedom camping in local reserves to self-contained vehicles within limited time frames, Council has neither the will nor the resources to enforce the restrictions.

“We struggle to get bylaws enforced up here on the best of days,” he says.

Meanwhile, Rodney Councillor Greg Sayers is hailing the deferment on the bylaw decision as a “huge win for Auckland’s democracy”.

“I believed Auckland Council had predetermined the outcomes it wanted and public feedback was being ignored. That is wrong and I decided to stand up and call the Mayor out on it,” he says.

Cr Sayers twice wrote to the Mayor, arguing that the proposed bylaw needed to be modified to exclude freedom camping from within currently protected reserves and from allowing unlimited freedom camping on residential streets.

But he says the Mayor rejected these concerns, prompting Cr Sayers to enlist the support of 11 fellow councillors to defeat the bylaw should it have reached a vote last week.

Chair of Council’s bylaws hearings panel Cr Linda Cooper says the panel will delay reporting to the Governing Body in light of potential legal action over the bylaw.

The panel will seek further advice before making its recommendations.  

Public consultation on the proposed Freedom Camping bylaw ran from December 3 to February 18. Public deliberations were held on April 4, May 29 and May 31.

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