Freedom camping fines may not fix problem

By Adam Bennett

People can face an instant fine of up to $200 for littering. Photo / Thinkstock
People can face an instant fine of up to $200 for littering. Photo / Thinkstock

Moves to rush through laws against freedom campers fouling public areas with rubbish and excrement before the Rugby World Cup risk failing to tackle the problem effectively, particularly in urban areas a tourism expert warns.

Environment Minister Nick Smith yesterday announced new legislation providing for instant fines of up $200 and court ordered fines of up $10,000 for freedom campers who soiled laybys, conservation areas and other beauty spots.

Dr Smith said the legislation should be in place before the 85,000 overseas visitors expected for the Rugby World Cup arrive.

But Director of the NZ Tourism Research Institute at AUT Simon Milne warned the amount of work stemming from the new law was considerable.

"I'm sure the legislation can be pushed through but the question remains what else has to be done before the Rugby World Cup kicks off?"

"This is not just about freedom camping in rural pristine areas," said Professor Milne who lives near the base of Mt Eden.

"Unfortunately it's not uncommon to see toilet paper faecal matter and rubbish that's been left on the mountain by people who can't be bothered using the public toilets."

Herald readers also reported similar behaviour was common in other parts of Auckland including Devonport Reserve.

"When we talk about the Rugby World Cup, that's what we have to realise," said Professor Milne.

"I'm certainly within what I would call the footprint of that event, most streets in this area will facing the same issue."

While Local Government NZ this morning gave assurances the new regime would be in place before October Professor Milne said signage and information issues had to be addressed before then and decisions made on what areas to designate as freedom camper zones.

"More importantly there needs to be effort placed and money spent on enforcement and also on the provision of information that can assist freedom campers to become better tourists".

Dr Smith yesterday said the existing system where each of the country's 67 districts had its own bylaws to control the problem was not working, either for "the responsible freedom camper wanting to do the right thing or for councils wanting to protect their local environment".

His new bill will enable councils to determine where camping is allowed, where it is restricted to campervans with on-board toilets, and where it is prohibited.

The Department of Conservation will be able to make similar rules on the reserves it manages.

The government wanted to encourage use of campervans with on-board toilets by restricting areas where those without could park up, "as the most serious problems arise from freedom camping without sanitary facilities".

The law will provide for a $200 instant fine for illegal camping that may be imposed on the camper or the company that owns and hires out the vehicle.

Fines up to $10,000 may be imposed by courts on a successful prosecution for illegally discharging sewage.

Local Government NZ president Laurence Yule welcomed the law and said councils would consult their communities in coming months to identify areas where freedom camping should be prohibited.

Holiday Parks Association chief executive Fergus Brown said many councils had been trying to address the issue but they lacked the legal teeth to do so effectively.

"This will now provide the local authorities with the ability to make quite substantial instant fines. It's a positive move."

- NZ Herald

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