Punakaiki freedom camping ban put on ice

By Lee Scanlon

Petition organiser Jed Findlay told the meeting Punakaiki was fed up with freedom campers. The amount of traffic at Punakaiki had skyrocketed since the Kaikoura quakes, he said. Photo / File
Petition organiser Jed Findlay told the meeting Punakaiki was fed up with freedom campers. The amount of traffic at Punakaiki had skyrocketed since the Kaikoura quakes, he said. Photo / File

The Buller District Council has delayed until next year a decision on whether to ban freedom camping at Punakaiki.

The council last night received a petition from 105 of Punakaiki's 110 ratepayers and/or permanent residents.

They want freedom camping banned in Punakaiki and immediately north and south of the township.

Petition organiser Jed Findlay told the meeting Punakaiki was fed up with freedom campers who left rubbish and excrement and blocked access to some areas.

"Out in the wops, in the middle of nowhere, is a perfect place for freedom camping - where there's a sense of freedom," Mr Findlay said.

"But right within our community, next to houses, we don't think that's the right place." The amount of traffic at Punakaiki had skyrocketed since the Kaikoura quakes, he said.

A Reefton man, Franz Mueller, told councillors members of the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association cherished the freedom to camp in self-contained vehicles.

"Restrictions and bans don't work, they are always going to be flouted ... whereas positive signage, positive encouragement to do the right thing does work," Mr Mueller said.

If Buller wanted to benefit from tourism it needed to provide infrastructure, such as toilets and litter bins, for freedom campers, he said.

He would pay to use them. The council needed to police freedom camping and fine offenders immediately.

"What Jed was talking about needs to be stamped out, absolutely." However, he warned Punakaiki's freedom camping problems would move somewhere else if council banned freedom camping there. Mr Mueller said the council's pamphlet on freedom camping was confusing. Council needed clear signage and clear enforcement of its rules.

"But don't spoil it for everybody." He said he had heard of freedom camper hire companies offering refunds to people who did not use the vehicle's toilet.

Reefton's Franz Mueller told councillors that if Buller wanted to benefit from tourism it needed to provide toilets and litter bins for freedom campers at Punakaiki. Photo / File
Reefton's Franz Mueller told councillors that if Buller wanted to benefit from tourism it needed to provide toilets and litter bins for freedom campers at Punakaiki. Photo / File

After a lengthy discussion, councillors decided to stick with a recommendation from chief executive Andy Gowland-Douglas.

They received the Punakaiki petition and deferred any decision until the Department of Internal Affairs and Local Government New Zealand have come up with a freedom camping policy.

The Buller council will work with the Punakaiki community and consult with the Grey District Council and the Department of Conservation on workable solutions. Buller will also hold a freedom camping workshop - open to the public - in February.

Ms Gowland-Douglas' report said a total ban on freedom camping in Punakaiki could be challenged in court. A solution might be to ban campers who weren't certified as self-contained.

She said the Grey council must agree to any solution because part of Punakaiki was in Grey. Buller Mayor Garry Howard said Buller had only one compliance officer for freedom camping.

The officer seldom went to Punakaiki because the Department of Conservation was the main land owner there and policed freedom camping on its land. He proposed council consider appointing another compliance officer and look at erecting community pride signs. His motion failed for lack of support.

Cr Jamie Cleine said Ms Gowland-Douglas' recommendation was inadequate. He said Buller already had a district-wide ban on non self-contained freedom campers, but it wasn't working.

Council could extend the list of areas where all camping was forbidden. Cr Cleine doubted whether any legal challenge would succeed given that 95 percent of Punakaiki people had petitioned for a freedom camping ban.

His motion that council seek the right to add more banned freedom camping areas to its bylaw failed for lack of support. Cr Emily Miazga said freedom camping was part of New Zealand's culture and attracted a large number of visitors. The best option was to crack down on offenders.

Cr Dave Hawes warned councillors that more compliance would cost money. There was no point making a bylaw council could not enforce.

Council needed punitive fines to pay for enforcement, he said. He acknowledged Punakaiki was being affected much more than Westport or Reefton, yet the council's only compliance officer was based in Westport.

Deputy Mayor Graeme Neylon said council should delay any decisions until after its workshop in February.

In the meantime, all the council could do was send its compliance officer to Punakaiki more often, he said.

- Westport News

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