( Following articles on Freedom Camping issues from IT – Inside Tourism June & July issues:)
Free camping problem not being accurately portrayed,
FORMER Taupō district councillor and tourism operator Rob Henderson has emailed more than 450 photographs and a 1,200-word letter to current councillors to highlight the major freedom camping problem facing the lakeside resort.
He believes the scale and nature of the free camper problem is not being accurately portrayed.
“This situation isn’t new and is a large part of why there has been no management response or plan over the past four years to the issues, and that we now have the scale of problems we do,” he tells IT.
The photographs represent only half the area where free camping is occurring and there are no images from the south end of the lake, where it is also a signi cant problem.
“The images essentially show non-compliance in terms of where they are parked/tented/sleeping in reserves, streets, roadsides, and what are considered to be ‘compliant’ (green- and-white sticker) vehicles, many of which clearly have no on-board waste facilities at all. Most importantly, though, they show the problem is much larger and differs in nature than what is being portrayed,” he says.
“Council staff will explain to you that, under the Freedom Camping Act, they do not need any facilities, but this is a red herring. You have the powers to control, manage or where appropriate ban this activity, and many other areas have successfully done just that with no impact on their reputation as a tourist friendly destination.”
Mr Henderson had earlier asked the photographs be passed to elected members and council staff members. But this appears not to have happened.
The council has now decided to temporarily close Reid’s Farm, the free campsite alongside the Waikato River.
“As the police have raised serious issues about behaviour at the site, it has to be permanently closed or operated as a commercial facility at no cost to ratepayers, who have already spent about $120,000 on it over the past three years.”
But if the site is to be permanently closed the scale of the problem at the remaining sites will increase by up to 20 percent, he says.
“On any busy evening this summer there were about 500 free camper vehicles and tents within 5km of the CBD, with about 100 of these vehicles containing people simply sleeping in their cars in the street or elsewhere.”
Outside Reid’s Farm “there is signicantly greater risk of continuing to do little to nothing in the short term as is being proposed, and I would suggest the ‘unforeseen consequences’ in the council report are being overplayed in part to convince you that it’s not necessary’ and possibly politically risky, to do anything signi cant before an election.”
There are many short-term measures the council can undertake now without a bylaw – such as physically restricting overnight vehicle access to reserves where camping is already illegal under the Reserves Act.
Access to the waterfront for Taupo locals and other visitors – particularly the many athletes training for events – is at times severely restricted. He suggests the current demand could easily be accommodated away from the Taupo urban waterfront, in existing council-owned off-street car parks and even closer to where the suggested economic bene t may be occurring.
He also suggests having a look at the Queenstown-Lakes District Council, which has bylaws in place that are working well. Waikato District Council and the Mackenzie District Council are also reviewing the possibility of a bylaw, but on a faster timeframe than Taupo District Council is proposing.
“Yes, the free camper legislation is poorly conceived, but no other council in a major tourist area has done less to respond to this issue over the past four years than TDC. Destination Great Lake Taupō, the district marketing authority, for example, was not consulted the last time they reviewed this in October 2014 and has been silent on the matter since,” Mr Henderson says.
“The environmental, social and district brand impacts of this are spilling over to adjoining areas, so you cannot act in isolation. Therefore lets hope the DoC site at Five Mile Bay, and the free for all on DIA land at the Taupo Yacht Club are also considered.
“Most importantly, it’s long overdue for council to start talking to the public and electors as the most important stakeholders. These are the people who, in some places, cannot access the lake edge in summer and are paying for this circus.”
Budget travellers provide an opportunity for campgrounds
“That’s exactly what we have spent the past three months telling councils throughout the country,” says the NZMCA CEO.
“Rob Henderson’s photographs of rubbish-strewn campsites, tenters and travellers in cars with no proper facilities re ect the point we have been making.
“In fact, I used some very similar images when I addressed Local Government New Zealand’s Rural and Provincial Mayors’ Sector meeting on the need for us to work together on this problem,” he tells IT.
“My message to them was that at a time when NZ’s tourism industry is
thriving like never before, and should be returning massive economic bene ts throughout the country, abuse of freedom camping is threatening to undermine the economic bene ts of motorhome tourism nationwide.”
To counter those issues, the NZMCA has proposed a plan that includes:
* A simple, consistent, nationwide approach, welcoming responsible motorhome tourism – with the default position that freedom camping on council-controlled land is permitted in a CSC vehicle only, unless a bylaw or decision made by a Council under another enactment restricts or prohibits the activity;
* The NZMCA working with the Standards Authority to raise the bar on the criteria for a vehicle to be certi ed as self-contained;
* The motorhome rental industry supporting councils in collecting unpaid infringement nes from international travellers.
“We absolutely agree with what Rob is saying. These people shouldn’t be freedom camping. They should be in commercial campgrounds which provide the facilities they need. That’s a view we have been advocating strongly.
“Where we differ is that we see the budget sector as an opportunity for the campground operators, not a problem. We believe there should be low-cost camping options available for this segment of the market, which ideally should be catered for by the existing holiday parks. They are certainly in the best position to take advantage of this opportunity as they have reported record results for the last two years and they’re anticipating 2016/17 being bigger still.
“And I’ve got to say it’s no coincidence that their boom times have followed our promotion of Motorhome Friendly towns – which have grown from 14 to 40 – with councils around the country welcoming Motorhome Tourism.
“Their success has clearly come on the back of how councils have embraced Motorhome Tourism,” says Mr Lochore.
“However, the campgrounds’ interpretation of low-cost seems to differ from what the market is wanting. We’re talking $5 a night type cost, but these options aren’t available to travellers who prefer to spend their money on activities rather than accommodation.
“We would suggest that is a really good option for councils, so they can address responsible freedom campers in certi ed self-contained vehicles and those that aren’t CSC in low-cost camping areas – which allows the rest of the town to bene t economically from the budget travellers’ spending on food and the adventure activities we know they’re happy to spend their money on.”