Kaikoura Star - Clamping down on freedom campers

Columns
Thursday, April 21, 2016

Like many scenic places around New Zealand, Kaikoura is affected by freedom campers - specifically, those who leave their mess behind.

And as I have previously written, like Kaikoura, councils around the country are grappling with how to best deal with this problem.

Councils have a number of powers under the Freedom Camping Act 2011. By passing a freedom camping bylaw, each local authority is able to choose areas where freedom camping is permitted (blanket bans across a district are not permitted under the Act) and then enforce that restriction.

Currently, the Kaikoura District Council does not have a freedom camping by-law in place.

Should they put one in place, their powers under the Act include the ability to clamp vehicles if they are parked illegally, then charge a fee to have the clamp removed.

I would suggest that clamping is a more powerful way to deter freedom campers without onboard toilets from parking illegally than the other option of an instant $200 fine, which is often left unpaid.

Clamping just a handful of campers would, in my opinion, create a strong deterrent for others to follow suit.

Under the Act, enforcement officers can require freedom campers to leave an area where camping is either not permitted, or where a designated freedom camping area is overcrowded.

However, as has been shown in areas like Koromiko near Picton, some campers who have been asked to leave will come straight back once the enforcement officer leaves.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council started clamping illegally parked freedom campers last year.

The council made this decision after half of all unlawful campers who were fined $200 for parking illegally - around 30 a day - left without paying.

Now, drivers pay an up-front fee of $200 to have the clamp removed, plus the $200 fine for breaching the Freedom Camping Bylaw.

Prominent signs warn of clamping in the most common problem areas.

Yes, clamping will no doubt annoy and probably inconvenience the freedom campers who are caught illegally parked.

But what we have to ask is what is important here: It has to be our environment because, after all, this is New Zealand’s main tourist drawcard.

Freedom campers who drop their rubbish, leave human waste behind and cause a nuisance are creating a very obvious negative impact on that environment. Iconic areas are being spoilt by littering from the very people who have come here specifically to enjoy New Zealand’s clean, green surroundings.

There are plenty of places where campers can stay, at reasonable cost. In some instances where that is not available, such as a very remote area, freedom camping may be appropriate, but allowing it in built-up areas is simply not necessary.

Our district councils do not need new legislation to control freedom camping.

What we want is strong enforcement of the rules to keep our environment clean and pristine.