John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Patrol enforces hard line on freedom campers

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Freedom campers will face the wrath of a dedicated council contractor if they break the rules and park up on one of the Bay's most idyllic visitor spots, Bowentown's Anzac Bay.

Western Bay District councillors have agreed to spend $25,000 employing someone to patrol Anzac Bay from December 22 to February 7, when night-time parking by freedom campers is prohibited.

The contractor will also carry out dog patrols on Waihi Beach and monitor car parking.

The contractor replaces last summer's $8000 part-time service by a man who combined the job with his summer holidays. A staff report to the council yesterday said the service had been well received by Waihi people and was "particularly effective".

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However, with freedom campers visiting Anzac Bay in increasing numbers since last summer's service ceased on January 24, community discontent with the level of council monitoring had increased.

"In some instances, members of the Waihi Beach community had taken it upon themselves to enforce the Freedom Camping Bylaw," the report said.

The rules around overnight parking in Anzac Bay had been tightened for the rest of the year so that self-contained motor homes are restricted to an area of 525sq m of the Bay's central parkland inside the ring road.

Council's get-tough attitude to freedom campers began last year in response to complaints that the Bay looked like a camping ground over summer, with up to 24 motor homes or camper vans parked up.

Yesterday's decision was responding to "escalating community discontent" and the risk of an altercation between locals and freedom campers.

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It led to the introduction of a weekend-only contractor from Easter this year.

In some instances, members of the Waihi Beach community had taken it upon themselves to enforce the Freedom Camping Bylaw.

And although some of the $25,000 costs of the full-time summer contractor could be recovered from fines, staff warned there could be a negative perception and community resistance if the current approach changed from education and warnings to aggressive cost recovery through fines.

Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge said locals felt that they paid their own way to live and holiday at Waihi Beach, and then saw others arrive to take up the space at Anzac Bay.

She noted that the $25,000 was only for next summer and the council would need to take further steps after that.

Councillor Garry Webber hinted there was a "solution coming up for Anzac Bay" and if the council worked its way through that then the contractor could become redundant in future years.

Councillor Peter Mackay agreed, saying he saw it as a one-off until the council had determined overnight options at Waihi Beach.

Chairwoman Gwenda Merriman said she was sure that the council would be looking at alternative facilities for visitors.

Although the meeting did not go into specifics, the Bay of Plenty Times understands that the initiative for more freedom camping overnight spots at Waihi Beach could be carried out by the the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, which already provided many sites around the country for its members.

Freedom campers already have a number of legal options for overnight stays outside of Anzac Bay at Waihi Beach and Bowentown, as well as parking at the RSA.

There were about 30 spaces available in the area during the peak summer restricted period.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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