Freedom camping rules ease

By Alexandra Newlove

4 comments
Mayor Sheryl Mai.
Mayor Sheryl Mai.

A ban on some forms of freedom camping in Whangarei looks set to soften following public feedback and a legal scramble.

More than 100 complaints in seven years about freedom campers prompted Whangarei District Council to draft a bylaw which banned sleeping in a vehicle overnight on council land, unless in a purpose-built camper with a toilet, wastewater storage and a "self-containment warrant".

The majority of complaints the council received were around campers polluting the areas they stayed.

But following April's consultation on the proposed new rules, the council has backed down and is creating a list of sites where non self-contained vehicles can go.

Seven of 42 people who submitted on the proposed Freedom Camping Bylaw supported non self-contained camping.

Current rules allowed campers - self-contained or otherwise - to park for up to three nights on council land.

Also following the consultation, several councillors said they may have been too hasty banning "non self-contained" camping.

Mayor Sheryl Mai said complaints about freedom campers were increasing and the council's new approach reflected public feedback, both in terms of complaints and people who wanted the freedom to sleep where they liked.

"We want to keep pursuing [the bylaw] ... We want to encourage people to use our beaches and respect them but where that doesn't happen we need a tool in the toolbox."

WDC group manager district living Paul Dell said council's legal advice stated it needed to restart consultation if it wanted to include non self-contained sites. This could cost up to $40,000, on top of the estimated $40,000 already spent developing the bylaw.

But after inquiries from the Northern Advocate and a reconvened meeting on Wednesday, Ms Mai said this may not be the case.

"It's a work in progress ... We will run it past the lawyers," she said.

The council would not release its original legal advice, citing privilege. The proposed bylaw also restricted the locations campers could park up, with additional bans in summer.

Under the proposed bylaw all camping would be banned from 23 "sensitive sites" - including one carpark at Matapouri beach, Tutukaka Marina Reserve and Riverside's Elliot Reserve.

Other sites would be subject to blanket summer bans - including Langs Beach's Cove Rd access, Ruakaka Beach Reserve, Whangaumu Reserve and Sandy Bay Rd reserve.

Self-contained campers could still be at select spots at Matapouri, Sandy Bay, Ocean Beach and Reyburn House Lane carpark - among others - provided they were in a designated marked space.

The locations that may be suitable for non self-contained camping were not yet identified, but would be where 24-hour toilet access could be provided.

People breaching the bylaw, which the council aimed to have in place by summer, could face an instant fine of $200, or prosecution and fines of up to $10,000.

- Northern Advocate

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