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Freedom camping bylaw may soon come into effect

March 13th, 2011

Some relief may be in sight for those concerned about the detrimental effects of freedom camping in the region. The Tasman District Council has voted to enter a consultation period for a new Freedom Camping Bylaw that will replace the current Freedom Camping Policy.

Freedom camping, and in particular the mess and health risks that some irresponsible campers leave behind as well as the 'freeloading' that many enjoy when using public land, has for several years been one of the most contentious issues faced by Motueka people as well as many others in the Tasman region. (Background information here)

Council has for some time had a Freedom Camping Policy that allows self-contained camper vans and other fully self-contained vehicles to be used for camping on specified Council controlled public land. A number of conditions are imposed, including limiting stays, and imposing conditions on waste disposal.

Council says its Draft Bylaw replaces the policy and has as its purpose the protection of public health and the avoidance of nuisance and fire risk, by regulating freedom camping within the district.

The Draft bylaw restricts freedom camping in certain places, including defined Department of Conservation land, and provides for fines to be issued to persons found to be camping in breach of the Bylaw.

Council says the Draft Bylaw resulted from the perceived need to provide a degree of enforcement to control people breaching the Freedom Camping Policy. That policy, whilst clearly setting out Councilís expectations for freedom campers, has no enforcement provisions. Aside from the somewhat cumbersome provisions of the Trespass Act 1980, no process is available to Council staff other than to request that illegal campers move on.

"Problems associated with errant freedom campers are routinely reported over summer and Councillors will have either been part of dealing with complaints or be aware of the publicity that the matter has had both nationally and in local newspapers," Council says. "Freedom Camping has been an issue for Council for over a decade. As a result of the direct involvement that Council staff has in dealing frequently with complaints about freedom camping, no additional consultation has been considered necessary (before drafting the bylaw)."

The full Statement of Proposal including the Draft Bylaw may be inspected during ordinary office hours at the Council Office including the one in Hickmott Place, Motueka, and at the Motueka Library, and a copy of the full Statement of Proposal may be viewed online here.

All submissions on the proposal are to be in writing and posted or delivered to: The Administration Advisor, Tasman District Council, Private Bag 4, 189 Queen Street, Richmond 7031, or they may be emailed to or faxed to 03 543 9524. Submissions will be received up until 4.30pm April 12th.

Detail of submissions will be reported to Environment & Planning Committee of Council on April 21st with opportunity for submitters to speak to the Committee during the public forum. The committee's decision will be ratified by full Council on May 19th, and on May 31st 2011 Tasman District Council Consolidated Bylaw Chapter 11 Freedom Camping will come into effect.

Background material

This has been summarised and edited from TDC's discussion of the draft bylaw.

The existing policy encourages travellers and campers to use camping grounds and other accommodation facilities as much as possible. This policy recognises that some visitors to our District are choosing overnight camping as their preferred accommodation. It also recognises the economic and social benefit campers bring to our District.

The policy states that overnight camping may occur on any Council-controlled public land, except land stated in prohibited areas, and for a maximum of two nights in any calendar month at any single location. Overnight camping may only be carried out in mobile vehicles fitted with a minimum three-day capacity toilet and greywater storage facility. Toilet and greywater must be disposed of in a Council-approved dump point.

All refuse must be disposed of in an approved refuse collection bag and put out for collection on the appropriate day or dropped off at any Tasman District Council Resource Recovery Station. The deposit of litter, including any effluent in other than an approved location, may result in an instant fine or prosecution. All overnight camping sites must be left in a clean and tidy state. Overnight campers are asked to comply with any request to move on, by any Officer of the Council.

Council says the proposed bylaw is intended to be permissive, that is, generally facilitating freedom camping throughout the District in a controlled manner. The ability and right to travel and camp in Tasman District is a right that Council supports generally. There are advantages to both the traveller and to the local business community in encouraging such tourism.

Recently there has been an increase in people choosing to freedom camp in vehicles that are not self contained, and this has been reflected in an increasing intolerance of freedom camping generally. However, it is the campers in non-self contained vehicles that are earning much of the poor reputation, and getting the bad press. When freedom campers comply with the Tasman District Council Freedom Camping Policy, very few problems are expected, nor is there a history of issues with such people.

The main issues with freedom camping are waste disposal and nuisance. The vast majority of locations in which people may freedom camp have no or limited facilities for waste disposal. The consequence is that both toilet waste and grey water may be illegally disposed of with little consideration of the potential nuisance or public health risk that will result. One only needs to look behind the bushes near the sides of our main highways to find they are littered with toilet paper and faecal matter.

It is believed that freedom campers that are not fully self contained and that do not rely on commercial camping grounds for overnight stays are the most regular contributors to this problem.

As well as being offensive, there is a very high public health risk associated with inadequate disposal of human waste. Even in locations where there are toilets provided, such as Motueka Beach Reserve, there is evidence of human waste in nearby bushes. Although there is less public health risk from the uncontrolled discharging of grey water, it remains an unacceptable and offensive practice and would certainly constitute a nuisance in terms of the provisions of the Health Act 1956.

Littering or inappropriate disposal of solid waste also presents a problem. The perception is that it is an irresponsible element amongst freedom campers that are primarily causing such problems, and that those people come from the ranks of those that are otherwise in breach of the freedom camping policy. No hard data exists on this problem other than to state that littering at locations where freedom camping occurs is noted.

Cooking in the open constitutes an obvious fire danger, particularly given that freedom camping is more likely to occur during the summer when fire risk is at its greatest. Clearly, there is little incentive for campers in a self contained motor-homes or caravans to cook out of doors. Conversely the users of vehicles that are not self contained will by virtue of the lack of appropriate alternative facilities be compelled to cook out of doors.

The two obvious breaches of the policy that are routinely noted are non-self contained vehicles or tents being used for freedom camping, and freedom camping occurring in locations where camping is prohibited.

As Council staff and contractors see only a small proportion of the people that are involved in freedom camping (both in compliance and in breach of the policy), little statistical data is available about the non-compliance that occurs. However, information obtained from Councilís Service Request data base reveals that 75 complaints were received between 1 March 2010 and 21 February 2011. Councilís contractor reports that about 20 to 30 non-complying freedom campers will have been spoken to and requested to move on each day patrols are undertaken for the period 1 November 2010 to the end of February 2011.

More specifically, Councilís contractor reports that on the evening of 13 February, 33 vehicles were used for camping at Motueka Beach Reserve. Only one of those was not in breach of the policy as it appeared to be a self contained motorhome, and the 32 remaining were vans or station wagons that were not self contained and obviously in breach of the policy.

Of those 32 vehicles, four were identifiable as belonging to commercial hire companies while the remaining 28 appeared to be privately owned. A high rate of out of date registrations and warrants of fitness was noted when the vehicle registrations were subsequently researched and that has now become the subject of a separate enforcement strategy.

Information gathered by Councilís contractor from the users of self contained motorhomes suggests that the occupancy of such sites as Motueka Beach Reserve by the vans and station wagons that are not self contained, is driving potentially legitimate users away. The contractor reports a perception that the basic vans and station wagons are associated with a less desirable element. This is reinforced by complaints received relating to alcohol consumption and noise from such vehicles at the Motueka Beach Reserve.

An instant fine, although incurring some costs for Council in administering the process, is the most practical instant penalty that can be applied to offenders. It is also suggested that not many infringement notices will need to be handed out before the camping fraternity learn that there are significant consequences if caught in breach of the new Freedom Camping Bylaw.

One of the risks that exist in establishing more stringent controls of freedom camping on TDC-controlled land is that the problem remains, but simply shifts to another location, such as Department of Conservation (DoC) controlled land. The aim of this bylaw should be to establish a consistent approach to freedom camping throughout Tasman District.

It should not be necessary for freedom campers to go through the potentially difficult task of establishing who owns what public places so that the rules that will apply can be determined. To keep the matter simple, the same rules should generally apply in public places throughout the District.

DoC has similar difficulties to those experienced by Council with freedom campers at many locations within the District. Whilst DoC has the ability to make bylaws to control freedom camping within National Parks, it has no such abilities in land it is responsible for that falls outside of National Park Boundaries.

For more detailed information, including what specific areas will be named as prohibited to freedom camping and the schedule of fines that will be imposed, download the full draft bylaw here.

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