Peak summer freedom camping could be banned for almost two months annually at under-pressure Tutukaka Coast sites – in an updated Whangārei camping bylaw.
This is among proposals in Whangārei District Council's first Camping in Public Places Bylaw review, brought forward amid growing freedom camping pressures - and about to go out for public consultation.
Public consultation on bylaw changes starts on Wednesday,
closing on November 26. A public hearing for those who want to talk about their submissions will be held on December 8. The council is expected to adopt the new bylaw early next year.
Whangarei District Council (WDC) is reviewing the 2017 bylaw in the face of a 160 per cent increase in district freedom campers in just three years. Thirteen thousand freedom camping vehicles visited Whangārei last summer – up from 5000 in 2017/2018.
The updated bylaw will come into effect for the 2021/2022 season, the coming summer season managed under the existing bylaw which allows peak summer freedom camping in these sites.
Tutukaka Coast freedom camping wouldn't be allowed from December 18 to February 8 at five sites – Tutukaka Harbour's Kowharewa Bay, Whangaumu Bay's main reserve (Whangaumu Reserve), Matapōuri's Wehiwehi Rd carpark, Sandy Bay toilet block carpark and Woolleys Bay's western carpark.
The past three years have seen Tutukaka Coast freedom camping issues intensify. Thousands of freedom campers visit the area each season. Its challenges are echoed around the district including in Ruakākā, Whangārei Heads and Whananaki.
More than 60 freedom camping areas from Langs Beach in the south to Whangaruru in the north have been reviewed, a map for each with its proposed status in the amended bylaw.
Tony Horton, WDC manager strategy, said the proposed bylaw included changes for the majority of freedom camping sites across most of the district.
Kowharewa Bay's problems include overstaying, overcrowding and campers blocking parking.
Matapōuri Wehiwehi Rd problems include health and safety reasons as its toilets can't cope with freedom camping demand. Woolleys Bay's western carpark's in an extremely popular area, freedom camping causing overcrowding and blocking carparks.
WDC is proposing Whangārei's Tikipunga sportspark as a peak season alternative self-contained freedom campers could use as a base, travelling out to Tutukaka Coast on day trips.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said WDC was looking at how it could improve its first-time three-year-old freedom camping bylaw.
Mai said there would be a range of changes. These included some existing freedom camping areas being expanded or reduced and restrictions in other locations.
The bylaw being reviewed operates under New Zealand's Freedom Camping Act 2011. That means review feedback can be considered under just three aspects – protecting access, protecting the local area and protecting the health and safety of people who visit the area.
The act also means WDC can't ban freedom camping. It must allow it to happen and have a balanced provision for freedom camping across the district.
The review's been brought forward to deal with what councillors have been told will be a polarising issue about which hard decisions will need to be made. It's being done together with a change to the Public Places Bylaw.
Horton said the council wanted to know the public's views on whether there should be additional freedom camping areas where the activity was prohibited or restricted.
WDC also wanted to know views on whether seasonal restrictions should be in place at all, some or none of the time at key beaches listed in the bylaw. It also wanted to hear about people's views on peak-season overflow freedom camping in selected city sportsparks.
Extensive monitoring over the past three summers has highlighted persistent
Whangārei district problem areas and the situation's worsened as freedom camping demand has increased.
Meanwhile, $260,000 of Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment funding has just been confirmed for WDC's freedom camping management this season.
It covers bylaw enforcement officers whose work kicks off on Saturday
and runs until the end of March.
WDC's seven-person responsible freedom camping ambassadors are also funded. Their work starts on December 12 and runs until February 19.