Four-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Ferguson says freedom camping needs to be banned at a major Tutukaka Coast hotspot.
The retired Olympic kayaker told Whangarei District Council (WDC)'s Freedom Camping Bylaw submissions hearing on Tuesday that the option needed to be prohibited at northern Sandy Bay's McAuslin Rd.
He lives opposite the road's freedom camping hotspot and said he supported WDC proposals to totally prohibit freedom camping from this location.
Ferguson said hoons using the 500m gravel road posed a major risk to Te Araroa trail walkers arriving at the site weary after a day's working.
"One day sooner or later there will be a tragedy on that road."
Tiny endangered New Zealand dotterels hatched in nests on the beach but never made it to adulthood due to dogs which came with the freedom campers and were often unleashed, along with other predators.
Freedom campers lit fires day or night, often getting wood from neighbouring residents' properties. This included one resident's wooden gate.
They went to the toilet around bushes at the site, rather than walk 200m to nearby public toilets. Bushes at the site had died as a result.
Ferguson said he wasn't against freedom camping across Whangārei. But it needed to happen in places with plenty of space, where it could be done safely and where users lived by the rules and local campground businesses weren't destroyed as a consequence.
The vexed question of Whangārei district's increasing freedom camping pressures drew strong and often-polarised responses from submitters mostly against the option who spoke at the hearing.
There has been a huge 160 per cent increase in freedom campers into Whangārei district in the past five years. Thirteen thousand freedom camping vehicles visited Whangārei last summer – up from 5000 in 2017/2018.
Freedom camping's an increasing challenge for Whangārei district's coastal communities in particular along the district's 107km coastline from Langs Beach in the south to Bland Bay in the north.
Ferguson was the first of about 20 people who spoke about their submissions to the hearing. His was among a total of 207 submissions and a 13-person petition received by the council.
James Imlach, New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) manager for property and policy, said Whangārei had one of New Zealand's most permissive approaches to freedom camping.
This was to be commended and should prevail in consideration of amendments to the relevant local bylaws.
Mayor Sheryl Mai said it was important to note the pending bylaw update would not come into effect until the summer of 2021/2022. Freedom camping would this 2020/2021 summer still be managed under the existing 2017 bylaw.
She said representations from the hearing would go into a report to be considered by the council at a February 9 deliberations meeting before final decisions on proposed bylaw changes at the council's February 16 council meeting. Both meetings would be public.
The council's Camping in Public Places Bylaw comes under New Zealand's Freedom Camping Act which requires it must allow for freedom camping in the district.
Bruce Barron, Whananaki Beach Association president, said locals in Whangārei were bearing the consequences of a piece of legislation rushed into New Zealand law in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
He said it forced councils to have to provide for freedom camping regardless of effects on the local community, environment and neighbours.
WDC should be lobbying the Government for a change to this legislation. "I believe it's the duty of this council to have this law appealed or amended," Barron said.
Woolleys Bay bach owner Louise Orford showed the hearing photos of used sanitary pads, dirty nappies and used toilet paper she said freedom campers left behind in Woolleys Bay.
She said it was wrong for WDC to allow uncontained freedom camping in the district.
Jan Boyes, Whangārei Heads Citizens Association chairwoman, said the freedom camping position taken by Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash should be considered in the bylaw review.
Nash has recently spoken out against non self-contained freedom camping.
Jimi Hart, Whangārei Vehicle Dwellers spokesman said the bylaw favoured certain sectors of society.
Tom Morton, a permanent vehicle dweller, said living in his non self-contained vehicle enabled him to have a home amid increasing rents. He would have to claim financial assistance to rent a house and did not want to.