Freedom camping – doesn’t it sound lovely? The very name conjures up carefree images of travelling far and wide (remember that?) and aimlessly pitching a tent or parking the van wherever you fancy.
In reality, the term simply means camping on public land that isn’t a campsite – so long as it isn’t prohibited by DOC, the Reserves Act or district council bylaws. And there’s the rub. Every council has different bylaws and, every few years, those bylaws need updating, which is where Auckland Council finds itself right now.
Its current bylaw doesn’t allow freedom camping on public land, except in a few designated spots, something appreciated by many local residents. But its new bylaw has to align with the Freedom Camping Act 2011, which generally allows camping on all public land, with a few exceptions.
So, Council has to decide where its exceptions might be – and it’s been trying, and failing, to come up with a list that suits everyone for more than three years now.
Its first attempt was scuppered by a legal challenge from a feisty group of Omaha Beach residents, who felt the loss of widespread prohibition would lead to unlimited numbers of campers being able to stay in residential streets indefinitely.
Council’s latest proposal is focused on a two-night stay limit and no return for two weeks on most public land.
However, Omaha Beach Committee remains unhappy. It is convinced that Council could still impose more widespread restrictions, even under the Freedom Camping Act, and it intends to fight on.
Their efforts have clearly got under the skin of Council officials and lawmakers, since much of last month’s Governing Body report aimed at getting the proposal out to public consultation was taken up with assurances that it was “legally robust” and could not be challenged, rather than the nuts and bolts of the bylaw itself.
Council staff are convinced they’ve done all they can to get the right new bylaw in place by the deadline of October next year. We say it’s up to residents and ratepayers throughout the district to judge and speak for themselves when it opens for public feedback on October 18 – don’t just leave it to those from Omaha Beach.