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Residents Fed Up With Freedom Campers, Says Councillor

Kaiti Beach residents are fed up with freedom campers, says Gisborne district councillor Larry Foster.

Gisborne District Council banned freedom camping in Marina Park last September after complaints about overcrowding and campers showering and washing dishes and clothing beside the boat ramp. Photo: Paul Rickard / The Gisborne Herald - single use only

“It’s getting a little bit out of control,” Cr Foster said, with up to 30 campers a night using the beachside car parks - “and it’s growing rapidly”.

“People are living in cars and urinating behind sheds and in the bushes, and not using the facilities that are provided for them.”

Cr Foster wants to join other local authorities in calling on the Government to stop requiring councils to provide freedom camping facilities.

The district’s camping system is in for an overhaul after councillors yesterday unanimously supported a recommendation to include the council’s summer campgrounds in a revised freedom camping bylaw.

The campgrounds are open during daylight saving in nine locations throughout the district, but under the bylaw they will be available year-round for free three-night stays.

Cr Foster said there were many homeless people living in cars at Kaiti Beach because they could go unnoticed and stay put “pretty much all day”.

The council is proposing to limit freedom camping in Gisborne city to one-night stays between 7pm and 7am in “one or two small car parks”.

In the rest of the district, it will be possible to freedom camp only in a self-contained vehicle or tent with a chemical toilet.

The council has been earning up to $55,000 a year from the permits campers need to purchase to stay at summer campgrounds.

At yesterday’s Sustainable Tairawhiti committee meeting, councillor Kerry Worsnop wanted to know if a reduction in permit revenue would see the cost of maintaining camping facilities fall on ratepayers.

But Helen Montgomery, the council’s environmental services and protection director, said it already was.

“The income that we get from the summer camping doesn’t really allow us to cover the cost of enforcement, and we’re required by the freedom camping act to provide freedom camping spaces,” Ms Montgomery said.

“It’s an issue that every council around the country has really struggled with . . . (and) a problem with the law, I think.”

Last summer, a grant of $325,905 from the Government’s responsible camping fund allowed the council to employ another two compliance officers to monitor freedom and summer campers in the district.

The council had picked up more fines as a result, Ms Montgomery said.

The fines totalled $11,200.

The council cannot currently issue $200 fines for rule-breaking at summer campgrounds, but it will be able to once the campgrounds are included in the freedom camping bylaw.

However, fines are not expected to exceed $20,000 a year.

Councillor Tony Robinson questioned the rationale for all but banning freedom camping in Gisborne city, saying the reasoning had not been outlined by council staff.

Chief executive Nedine Thatcher Swann said the proposal was in response to issues with freedom camping in the city, particularly at Marina Park.

In September last year, the council banned freedom camping in Marina Park adjacent to Taruheru River.

The decision followed complaints about overcrowding in the park and campers showering and washing dishes and clothing beside the boat ramp.

Meanwhile, campers who have previously enjoyed staying at summer campgrounds for more than three nights will be able to apply for renewable 28-day permits during daylight saving, under the proposal.

Councillor Pat Seymour wanted to see the time frame extend beyond 28 days.

“It’s a beautiful part of the world and we should allow our public to use it,” Cr Seymour said.

Conversely, Cr Robinson thought a permit for 14 days would be ample.

The council is also proposing to review the boundaries of some summer campgrounds where erosion is a problem, including at Turihaua Point and southern Pouawa.

Changes to summer camping are not expected to take effect until May 2021.

© Scoop Media

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