Beach bylaw compromise looks likely

Drive here? . . . Clutha District Council senior policy adviser Mike Goldsmith illustrates a signage option used by Horowhenua District Council to control vehicle use on beaches, during a council bylaw workshop in Balclutha on Thursday. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON

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CLUTHA District Council may be leaning towards a middle› ground compromise regarding a controversial bylaw proposal.

The council has been working through consultation on the draft vehicles on beaches bylaw since May, in a process that has both galvanised and polarised residents.

Last Thursday, councillors met in a public workshop in Balclutha to discuss fine›tuning of options for any new regulations, before they make a formal decision at a meeting on September 15.

The draft bylaw proposed a ban for vehicles on eight Clutha beaches, with exemptions for emergency services, boat access and access to properties otherwise inaccessible by road.

Vehicles elsewhere would be limited to 30kmh and be expected to be driven safely and away from wildlife.

During Thursday’s meeting, councillors appeared to be leaning towards more flexible options for vehicle control.

Discussion centred on options two and three of five presented, at the less stringent end of the spectrum.

Option two proposes instituting a ‘‘general set of rules relating to driver behaviour and speed’’.

Option three takes that a step further, and includes establishing ‘‘selected safe zone beaches’’ and a formal process for adding others as required.

That could mean some beaches originally included in the draft bylaw would not immediately be subject to vehicle bans.

Presenting the options, council senior policy adviser Mike Goldsmith said issues with vehicles on beaches had been identified both by the council’s freedom camping ranger, and by a large number of submitters.

Between December 3, 2021, and March 27, 2022, the ranger identified 21 incidents involving vehicles being used unacceptably on beaches.

A record 725 unique submissions were made to the consultation process.

Of those, Mr Goldsmith said the two key values identified were ‘‘walking’’ and ‘‘wildlife’’, mentioned more than 900 times each; the top two ‘‘threats’’ were ‘‘vehicles can endanger wildlife’’, and ‘‘loss of habitat for wildlife’’, both mentioned more than 500 times.

A recurring point of discussion during the meeting was the effective policing of any bylaw.

Cr Lloyd McCall said he wondered whether efforts placed in forming the new bylaw might be wasted if unable to be policed.

‘‘Perhaps, instead of spending our money on monitoring and compliance, we spend it on education?’’ he said.

Cr Alison Ludemann agreed, requesting council staff prepare further information on how education and signage might be used.

Any resulting bylaw will come into force on January 1, 2023.