Council seeking more freedom camping sites

Hopes that this summer would see firm rules in place to restrict freedom camping on the Hibiscus Coast have been dashed, with Auckland Council announcing on July 31 that its new Freedom Camping bylaw will not be finalised, as planned, this summer.

Resident were hoping that the bylaw could mean an end to ongoing issues with freedom campers crowding car parks, leaving waste and rubbish and putting pressure on public facilities such as toilets – especially in Orewa.

Locally, freedom camping is allowed in designated places because of a bylaw that the former Rodney District Council put in place. Some of those sites have also been recommended to have restrictions or prohibitions placed on them when the new bylaw is introduced due to issues experienced in recent years.

A key reason for the delay in finalising the new bylaw is the number of objections made by local boards to the sites suggested by Council for freedom camping.

Those objectors include the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board, which rejected four out of the seven sites that Council staff suggested as suitable for freedom camping (HM July 4). These included Orewa Library car park, Duncansby Lookout & Esplanade Reserve in Stanmore Bay, Red Beach Lookout Reserve (at Vista Motu) and Victor Eaves Park in Orewa. The local board feedback to Council was that only the Hammerhead at Gulf Harbour, Hatfields Beach Recreation Reserve and the seaward side of Stanmore Bay Park are suitable.

However, it is clear that in the face of community opposition, Council is still looking at ways to increase the number of freedom camping sites. It is seeking legal advice and considering approaching Government for consent to enable freedom camping in parks held under the Reserves Act. Currently overnight camping is prohibited in reserves under the Reserves Act unless an exemption applies.

Council’s social policy and bylaws manager Michael Sinclair says several councils around New Zealand have used powers available to them through ministerial consent to enable freedom camping in parks held under the Reserves Act.

“Quite a few of the sites that have been suggested as restricted sites in recent reports to the local boards are on parks held under the Reserves Act. Staff are investigating if there are legal avenues available to provide for freedom camping with restrictions on these sites,” he says. “If no legal avenues are available, then these sites will not be scheduled in the bylaw.”

“Currently there are very few sites across Auckland where freedom camping can occur. This ‘forces’ campers to either overcrowd those sites or break the rules. Part of the review has also looked at whether there are additional sites where restricted access could be appropriate in order to reduce this pressure.”

While local board chair Julia Parfitt agrees that making more sites available could relieve pressure on areas where freedom camping is a problem, she says on the Hibiscus Coast it could also simply create more problem areas.

She says since the areas suggested by Council were made public by Hibiscus Matters in July, residents have been contacting her to express relief that the local board is not supporting those additional sites.

The delay in creating a new bylaw means that the status quo will apply this summer and Mrs Parfitt says this is a real concern to residents, particularly those living adjacent to areas that have had issues with freedom camping, such as Arundel and Orewa Reserves.

Arundel Reserve in Orewa has continued to have problems with freedom campers through the winter, and one repeat offender was trespassed.

Orewa Beach Reserve, by Orewa Surf Club, is also a problem, and Mrs Parfitt says all options are being considered to control overnight parking there including potentially chaining off the car park at night. This is being discussed with the surf club.

Mrs Parfitt says that the delay with the bylaw means that resources to effectively enforce the No Overnight Camping signs that currently restrict freedom camping in some car parks needs to be sorted out before this summer.

Mr Sinclair says that extending the timeframe will give Council more time for implementation and enforcement planning. He says the resources needed for enforcement, wherever the practice is banned, will vary depending on the number of locations that are being prohibited.“The more sites the council prohibits, the greater the pressure this would place on compliance staff to monitor and enforce them. Decisions about enforcement are also dependent on resourcing and prioritisation decisions that are made operationally and can vary over time,” he says.

Mr Sinclair says that the delay also means that Council can do further monitoring of sites this summer.
A draft bylaw and statement of proposal will be presented to the Regulatory Committee later this year, and if accepted will go out for public consultation.

The local board has set up a designated email for public feedback on this issue, which is