The closure of a popular coastal Napier reserve to freedom campers for 18 months has been lauded as a positive move by Tourism Minister and Napier MP Stuart Nash.
Locals say problems with public defecation, drug dealing and damaged trees at Westshore Beach Reserve haven't gone away since the flow of international tourists in the region was abruptly halted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Napier City Council has now decided to close the Westshore Beach Reserve until April 1, 2023, using section 9.1 of its Freedom Camping Bylaw.
Chief executive Steph Rotarangi said the site had been the subject of ongoing complaints and issues associated with visitor behaviour.
"Closing until April 1, 2023, allows us to monitor two summer seasons," Rotarangi said.
"This will help us understand the impact, if any, of the loss of this site in relation to our other Napier sites as well as understand the outcomes of government's current proposal to ensure freedom camping is undertaken in a more sustainable manner.
"We can then assess what work, if any, is required to continue to operate this site in a way that is safe and sustainable."
Minister of Tourism Stuart Nash said he congratulated the council for the decision and for listening to the voice of locals who had been complaining about bad behaviour for years.
"It is the right decision and is good to hear," he said.
"The problems at Westshore are the tip of the iceberg and abuse by some freedom campers is a common source of complaint to councils around the country."
He said that's why, as Tourism Minister, he had signalled changes were coming which would make it easier for councils to control camping behaviour.
"We want to reset tourism on a sustainable model, deal with the negative impacts associated with tourism, and reinforce the concept of 100% Pure, Brand New Zealand," Nash said.
"The time to do so is now, before we fully reopen to international tourism."
Rotarangi said the site could be used like any other beach reserve, and the council encouraged the community to enjoy the beach area.
The only prohibition is freedom camping, as defined in the council bylaw, she said.
"Responsible camping has a long history in Napier with many New Zealanders enjoying all that our city has to offer," she said.
"However, in recent years, some in our community have raised concern around freedom campers' cumulative impact on the environment and the cost to host them.
"In particular, this concern has focused on the subset of campers who are not self-contained.
"The complaints that we have received over the years are numerous however more recently we have experienced issues with human waste being discarded in rubbish bins, thus impacting on the health and safety of our staff and the community."
She said Napier had two other freedom camping sites for self-contained vehicles, at the Pump Track, and Perfume Point.
A third site, at the foreshore reserve, is for non self-contained vehicles. These sites are located further away from residential areas.
Former Napier City councillor, and Westshore resident Larry Dallimore said the fact that a closure was deemed reasonable spoke volumes about what residents were dealing with.
"It could only be because of the drug dealing at the far end, the defecating in the bushes, and the tearing down of the trees," Dallimore said.
"There have been ongoing issues, but people are too politically correct to talk about them."