Freedom camping rules to change

By Victoria White

1 comment
Freedom campers line the foreshore at Westshore Beach.
Freedom campers line the foreshore at Westshore Beach.

Progress is being made on a battle fought by Napier residents since 2014, with rules around freedom camping set to change.

Napier City Councillors approved a review of the city's freedom camping bylaw and drafted a new bylaw at a regulatory committee meeting yesterday.

They were then thanked by the numerous Westshore residents gathered in the public gallery.

Freedom camping at the Napier beachfront suburb has been a controversial topic since the original bylaw was created in 2014.

After the meeting, Westshore Residents and Development Association chairman Richard Karn said they had been waiting for this since early last year, when a designated carpark "just got mobbed with freedom campers".

"That was when the residents first realised it was a designated freedom camping carpark," he said.

The carpark is one area where freedom campers would now be prohibited under the draft bylaw, as well as another Westshore site, and the northern Ocean Spa carpark.

Mr Karn said this was great news, and although he understood processes needed to be followed, "we started this battle in December last year".

"It's taken us nine months to get to this point where we can actually see progress being made."

He and association member Cathy Macdonald said residents had initially been upset by a lack of consultation when the 2014 bylaw was introduced.

While there had also been concerns about the view campervans blocked, Ms Macdonald said "that's not what we're fighting this about. It's about access to the reserve for the enjoyment of everyone, not just campervans".

Ms Macdonald said they were not opposed to freedom campers, but their presence had restricted beach access. This meant residents found day visitors and kite surfers were among those who no longer visited one of Napier's few swimmable beaches.

The impact on coastal access was one factor cited in a report presented to council yesterday.

The report said council recognised the benefits of Napier being a popular destination on "the freedom camping circuit", but wanted to ensure freedom camping had the least possible impact on residents, the environment, and public access to coastal areas.

The draft statement of proposal also stipulated that removing freedom campers from Westshore Beach reserve would reduce the pressure on the area, "ensure unimpeded access for all reserve users", and protect the integrity of the coastal barrier.

During the meeting Councillor Tony Jeffery said the bylaw was not about Napier becoming less campervan friendly, and council were going to "look at this properly and do it right because we never got it right the first time".

Mayor Bill Dalton said the council had been one of many struggling against the 2011 Freedom Camping Act.

"Many councils right throughout New Zealand have had issues coming up with appropriate laws and regulations and we're no different," he said, adding council would now create regulations which were fair to residents, and freedom campers.

Yesterday council also approved a statement of proposal and for staff to continue working on finding other sites suitable for freedom camping.

Changes to the new bylaw would also include adding the Westshore foreshore reserve and McLean Park to the list of prohibited camping sites, and that campers in non-prohibited areas managed by the council would only be allowed to stay there for one night, rather than three.

A consultation period begins September 19, with a public hearing of submissions in the week from November 21.

A final decision from council was expected to be made in early December.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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