Free camping riles park owners

By John Cousins

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One of Tauranga's biggest camping grounds is losing thousands of dollars of business from motor homers who park around the city and don't pay.

The Silver Birch Holiday Park in Turret Rd has two sites reserved for camper vans but they have remained empty for nights - despite hundreds of vans pouring into the city.

"This is our peak time," holiday park co-owner Richie Robin said.

Up to six vans have been parked on the roadside rest area opposite the holiday park, with some people sneaking across to use the camp's showers.

Ms Robin was fed up with the lack of action on the issue. She had seen 10 motor homes on one of Tauranga City Council's free overnight park-up spots - more than three times the allowed number.

TCC spokesman Frank Begley said council staff were enforcing the bylaw that regulated where mobile homes could park. Patrols took place each morning because an offence was only committed where a motor home was parked overnight.

Mr Begley said motorists were advised of the rules regarding where motor homes could park and moved on if they breached regulations.

The bylaw permits a maximum of three self-contained motor homes to park overnight on each of the five named reserves. But the bylaw has come into conflict with the Freedom of Camping Act 2011 which was pushed through for the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association used the Act to argue that the council's near blanket ban on free overnight parking was illegal.

The council received legal advice that it could maintain its current position to police freedom camping on the five reserves, but at the expense of being unable to issue instant fines to people who parked up on other reserves.

Ms Robin said the rest area across the road from the holiday park had been nearly full every night for the past month and a "no camping" sign erected a week ago had been completely ignored.

There were nearby public toilets but it did not stop people urinating against the pohutukawa trees and leaving a mess behind in the morning, she said.

Ms Robin said the attitude among motor home owners was to use a camping ground just to charge up their batteries and replenish water supplies..

Although the Act was supposed to have given councils more teeth, she said their business from campervans and motor homes had remained the same.

Bruce Crosby from the Papamoa Beach Top 10 Holiday Park said the industry had been "shafted big time" by the Freedom of Camping Act and every council was now wrestling with the implications. Councils were unable to put a blanket ban on freedom camping in reserves.

He blamed the Government, the Tourism Industry Association and the Holiday Accommodation Parks of New Zealand, for the pitfalls in the fast-tracked legislation.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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