Councils brace for freedom campers

Nicholas McBride

As summer approaches, freedom campers will soon start parking up on the West Coast en masse — but it could be another season of the same old issues.
In May, Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn wrote to his fellow mayors and approached the lobby group Local Government NZ to require campervan companies to better educate users.
“We need to keep looking at ways we can educate non-self-contained hirers about their rights while they are in New Zealand. The best way to do that is at the source,” Mr Kokshoorn said.
However, the proposal lost traction and Mr Kokshoorn acknowledged that “huge amounts” of campervans and the problem ‘sleepervans’ would soon start travelling through the region again.
Each council has different rules and he agreed that most visitors would not go out of their way to find them.
“When you are touring New Zealand you are not interested in visiting councils.”
He was advocating for a collective policy to be put in place around the country.
“We will keep working on this. Eventually, the other councils will realise it is important to collaborate on this important issue.”
Just down State highway 6, Westland District Mayor Mike Havill said freedom camping was “not even on the radar” as they tried to rein in the council finances and rates.
Westland District Council has not had any legislation in place since it was forced to revoke its bylaw last year in the face of threatened court action from the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association.
Mr Havill said 87% of West-land district was managed by DOC, and on conservation estate people were allowed to freedom camp and the council did not have jurisdiction to police.
“If the council puts in a bylaw and people freedom camp on DOC land or State highway land, what changes?”
He agreed it was non-self-contained ‘sleepervans’ that were the main issue, but said that was a national problem.
As long as those who camped in Westland enjoyed their stay and did not leave their waste behind, he was not worried.
Buller deputy mayor Graeme Neylon agreed that the same conversation would continue each year unless the hire companies came on board.
Buller’s policy was to try to educate campers, but it was a New Zealand-wide problem.
He suggested that information could be made available to campers through a smartphone app to keep them informed.
The Buller District Council also had been put off having a blanket bylaw that restricted where people could camp due to legal action from the Motor Caravan Association.
Mr Neylon said Motor Caravan Association members were often “caught in the cross-hairs” and needed to be encouraged to keep coming to the district and spending their money.