Fears freedom to be cramped

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JACK.CONROY@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

A proposed new ‘‘restrictive, open’’ freedom camping bylaw for Clutha is too restrictive, a motor-home governing body says.

A draft Clutha District Council bylaw proposes a ‘‘restrictive, open’’ policy to freedom camping, which would allow visitors to camp anywhere in the district except for defined areas focused on its main towns and scenic locations.

Some towns and townships could also have designated freedom camping sites established, mirroring a controversial recent eight-berth trial site in Owaka.

New Zealand Motor Caravan Association national policy and planning manager James Imlach was one of several people speaking in support of the association’s submissions to the bylaw consultation process, at a regulatory and policy committee meeting on September 3.

The association represents 93,000 New Zealand motor-home users, many of them freedom campers.

Mr Imlach joined the meeting via Zoom from Auckland and said the proposed conditions for freedom camping went ‘‘too far’’ and rules were ‘‘unclear’’.

The council’s opposition to camping in urban areas meant the wide array of potential camping spots alluded to in the bylaw were mostly ‘‘illusory’’.

‘‘[Clutha] is of the mindset it’s pretty permissive when it comes to freedom camping because the rest of the district is open for freedom camping,’’ Mr Imlach told the Clutha Leader.

‘‘Most of those areas outside urban areas are private land so they’re not open for freedom camping. I’m sure farmers don’t want you freedom camping in their paddocks.’’

He wanted the council to be more transparent about where the usable locations in the district were.

‘‘It’s one thing saying we’ve got plenty of places outside urban areas, but if we know that there are other rules that apply that overlap with the Freedom Camping Act, I don’t think it’s sensible for us to go to people and say you can go wherever you like, when those places don’t actually exist,’’ Mr Imlach said.

‘‘They could end up with a fine.’’

Others at the meeting endorsed the draft bylaw.

Among them was Owaka Going Forward member Marion Leslie, who said the trial freedom camping ground in Owaka had ‘‘shown improvements’’.

‘‘Anecdotally, those people who have been in Owaka at that site have accessed facilities in town.

‘‘They’ve eaten at the pub, or they’ve been to the museum or they’ve bought something at Four Square. Whereas if they’re parked out in the countryside they don’t.’’

However, her support for the new policy was conditional on the employment of a ranger to monitor such sites.

‘‘To be visible and move people on if they aren’t in the right spots . . . I think it helps. If the area is being patrolled people think ‘I’d better watch where I’m parked’.’’

Council chief executive Steve Hill said the council had been pleased with the volume of feedback received.

‘‘Due the large number of submissions made it’s highly likely the bylaw will be amended in some form,’’ he said.