Ratespayers' pressure: Councillors ban freedom camping - Kogonuso

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Nov 29, 2018

Ratespayers' pressure: Councillors ban freedom camping

At an extraordinary meeting last night, it voted to ban all such camping on key coastal reserve land and at the popular Waiwhakaiho river mouth area, which was overrun by freedom campers last summer.

Freedom camping vehicles without toilets will now be restricted to just 15 spaces in three carparks in the district, and allowed to stay just one night.

Putting up tents except at official campgrounds is also now banned.

Outside of the areas where all freedom camping is banned, self-contained vehicles will still be permitted if legally parked; they can stay up to three nights.

Last year, the council ignored the advice of its planning staff and approved a freedom camping bylaw, which allowed the practice everywhere outside of a handful of sensitive sites.

What followed caught councillors by surprise.

Enticed by travel guide Lonely Planet's endorsement of Taranaki as the No 2 region in the world to visit, freedom campers came enmass.

The Waiwhakaiho river mouth area in particular had up to 100 freedom camping vehicles each night and the council had to provide extra toilets and security.

Public opinion turned with many residents saying they couldn't enjoy ratepayer-funded facilities while campgrounds stood half empty.

At last night's review of that bylaw it seemed most councillors had got the message.

Councillor Alan Melody said he had been elected to represent local ratepayers not European travellers.

"I stood to represent the people of this community and not Helmut and Olga from Germany in their $4000 van with three bald tyres and I've read the submissions and listened to the hearing and our community clearly wants us to control the car parks we are discussing and wants to be able to use them themselves.

"I don't want to take my grandchildren down when Helmut and Olga have their washing hanging out the back of their van and there's no access to the public toilets because they're in there having a wash.

"I welcome those young people to our community but they have to come on our terms."

But councillor Mike Merrick took a more conciliatory stance.

"I want to make it very clear to my colleagues and everyone else in the chamber I support freedom camping. I don't think there should be any restrictions and it should be a first come, first served situation.

"I just don't see what the issue is. I think we are creating the issue."

Mr Merrick said councillors were getting bogged down in the detail of how many carparks and where they were, which was the business of council staff.

English ex-pat Dan Marks was parked up at the Kawaroa Reserve where all freedom camping had been banned.

He was not pleased.

"It's just another one of those procedures where it's done by men in suits in air-conditioned offices who don't actually know anything about the real world and haven't actually got out here and seen it for themselves."

Mr Marks, who drove a van without an onboard toilet with his partner Allie Sanson, said they lived in Taranaki and enjoyed the flexibility of freedom camping.

Riccardo Deeuwen of the Netherlands was also parked up at Kawaroa with his partner Esmee.

He did not think a ban was the answer.

"I think because it's a nice spot and it's got a toilet you can ask for some money for it like $5 a person, so it's not much for the campers so everyone will pay that, but it's cheaper than the campgrounds."

But local resident Olivia Parangi who was at Kawaroa with her family thought freedom camping should be banned at the reserve.

"Yeah, I think they should ban it here. It's a place for families to come and spend the day. Not see people hanging out their washing or cooking their dinner and sleeping around. It's a recreational space not somewhere for people to move in for a little bit."

Rob Tait was about to take his paddle board out for a surf at Waiwhakaiho.

He said a freedom ban in the area could not come quickly enough.

"You're a ratepayer and you come down to your local beach for a surf and there's freedom campers everywhere and you don't get a surf at your own beach. Really? Ask yourself."

Mr Tait said there was a half-empty campground only a few hundred metres away from Waiwhakaiho and freedom campers should go there and pay their way.

Austrian Rene Panholzaer, who was travelling with his partner Carina Csar, said they could sense they were not welcome at Waiwhakaiho.

"We asked at the iSite at the town centre and they told us it was okay so how should we know there's a problem. Some guys are nice but most people, ah you know, we thought they are not happy about this.

"The city should decide. They should close it or make another spot perhaps. I really don't know how it is running here."

The new restrictions come into force on 14 December.

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