Westland camping case will set tone

By Lawrence Gullery

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association is hoping it can avoid legal action against the Napier City Council as it prepares a High Court challenge to protect the rights of its members to freedom camp.

The association is asking the court to rule on the legality of Westland District Council's decision to prohibit freedom campers within 1km of towns and settlements in the Westland district.

Association general manager Bruce Lochore said Westland's action was "extreme" and against the Freedom Camping Act 2011.

"It appears they have moved to protect the motorcamps and businesses and that's what we want to challenge."

Mr Lochore said it was too early to talk about whether the association would target the Napier City Council next but agreed the case against Westland was a landmark one and the outcome would be watched carefully by other councils writing policies on freedom camping.

"Napier doesn't have a policy at this stage and is still working on it. We would like to keep talking to the Napier council, and all other councils for that matter, to come up with policies which benefit the community and our own members.

"The focus at the moment is on the Westland [case] and we are looking to get some clear guidelines from the court action."

In the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup, councils sought a mechanism to deal with the worst offending freedom campers, and that's when the Government introduced the Freedom Camping Act. It required all councils to have a policy accommodating freedom campers within their boundaries.

Tararua, Central Hawke's Bay, Hastings and now Wairoa councils all have areas for freedom campers with just Napier the only place in the region missing out on the tourist dollar coming from this particular visitor industry.

A public hearing at Napier City Council was held towards the end of last year to give people a chance to put forward their views on the Freedom Camping Act.

The council came up with a bylaw following the hearing but there were a few objections and it was withdrawn for further review this year.

Mr Lochore said the association was "in total agreement" on the decision to take Westland council to court.

"But it was a decision we didn't want to make, or to spend a considerable amount of time on, and so we are keen to keep communication with councils, that is still our aim."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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