The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association has decided it will take the Taupo District Council to the High Court over its freedom camping bylaw if it does not change it.
At its bi-monthly meeting in New Plymouth, the NZMCA Board agreed to fund a High Court judicial review of the Taupo District Council's proposed "unreasonable and prohibitive" freedom camping bylaw if it goes ahead as drafted.
The proposed bylaw is still being considered by the council, with staff instructed at the last full council meeting to have another look at the proposed restrictions on freedom camping.
The bylaw originally proposed restricting freedom camping to several designated areas around the Taupo district, but was completely overhauled after the NZMCA threatened a judicial review during bylaw consultation in May.
The council now finds itself in the position of having to balance the permissive Freedom Camping Act 2011 with the community's requests to protect Lake Taupo with a ban on lakeshore freedom camping.
The NZMCA says the proposed bylaw that went out for public consultation was dramatically different from the one that was originally signalled, and that it was prepared to accept. That version would have banned lakeshore camping in the Taupo CBD but allowed it around other areas of Lake Taupo.
The latest version of the proposed bylaw bans freedom camping within a 100-metre buffer zone around Lake Taupoō.
Self-contained lakefront freedom camping is currently allowed in areas such as Five Mile Bay Recreation Reserve and Taupoō Boat Harbour. Restricted camping is allowed at Whakaipo Bay and Omori Reserve.
In addition, there are lakefront campgrounds at Motutere Bay and Motuoapa.
But the NZMCA believes the proposed bylaw, if left unchecked, would unfairly penalise its motorhoming members visiting Taupo and also set "a dangerous precedent for other local authorities to follow".
The NZMCA Board's principal concerns with Taupo proposed bylaw include the 100m buffer zone, a prohibition on freedom camping throughout Turangi and the lakeshore settlements, but not Taupo, plus designated sites in Mangakino and Whakamaru; and a
blanket ban on freedom camping on council reserves.
The NZMCA Board said in an update to members after the meeting that its national office had received "plenty of feedback from members concerned by the Taupo council's approach and the direct impact it will have on their ability to freedom camp or for locals to host visiting members".
"The members' concerns have been backed by two independent legal opinions, sought by the board, which clearly state the bylaw is unlawful and would not withstand scrutiny in the High Court. Our decision to take legal action is a last resort and follows almost a year of consultation with the council to seek an appropriate outcome."
NZMCA policy and planning manager James Imlach said the association had been inundated with complaints and queries from members and non-members. Local members were afraid visitors in motorhomes would not be allowed to park in front of their homes and others wanted the right to freedom camp on the lakefront.
He said the data the council shared with the freedom camping working group did not support its statements that the community wanted freedom camping off the lakefront.
"I've yet to see any community responses where there's overwhelming feedback that the whole lakefront be prohibited.
"We worked hard with the council to come up with a compromise that banned freedom camping in the CBD but the insertion of those clauses that virtually prohibited freedom camping everywhere else changed that landscape," Mr Imlach said.
"We just want to make sure that overall premise of the bylaw is in line with the legislation expectation, that's all."
The Taupo District Council had hoped to reconsider the proposed bylaw at its meeting next week, but has had to defer it to next month while it continues to look for a solution that works for all parties as well as protecting Lake Taupo.