Freedom camping trial 'working' despite excesses

Christine Garey
Christine Garey
The Dunedin City Council insists extra efforts to control freedom camping on Otago Peninsula are working, despite a complaint to police about the numbers descending on Macandrew Bay late last week.

The complaint came after 13 vehicles took up Macandrew Bay's five designated freedom camping parks, and other nearby spaces, next to Ralph Ham Park on Thursday night.

Senior Constable Lox Kellas, of Portobello, confirmed the complaint had been received on Friday morning, by which time nine vehicles remained. The complaint was referred to the council.

Council staff spoken to yesterday confirmed the council's security firm, First Security, was alerted, but did not attend immediately.

The complaint came just days after councillors voted to continue a two-year trial of freedom camping at Macandrew Bay, at least until June, while assessing the impact of extra signs and security patrols.

The changes were introduced in response to community concern at the number of freedom campers staying overnight, which sometimes topped 20 vehicles.

Councillors at last week's planning and regulatory committee meeting voted to continue the trial after being reassured the recent changes were helping ease problems and no more than five vehicles were now parking in the area.

However, council parks operations officer Richard Dahlenburg on Friday said numbers had been ''up and down'' since the changes were introduced.

The week before last was a good one, but there were reports of 10 campers parked in the area early last week and 13 on Thursday morning.

Some residents were still getting ''a bit hot under the collar'' when extra vehicles were spotted, but the situation was still improving, he believed.

''To the best of my knowledge it's trended down from where it was, which was up in the 20s and even more than that at times.

''I would suggest it's a big improvement ... a lot will depend on the numbers of people going down the peninsula at any one time, and what their intentions are,'' he said.

Otago Peninsula Community Board chairwoman Christine Garey said the additional measures had been working ''very well'' to date, but ''clearly they aren't working if those are the numbers we're getting''.

The council needed to manage the presence of freedom campers in Macandrew Bay until the trial ended, to ease community concerns, she said.

''That's what we're trying to ensure - that that is managed and dealt with and people's concerns have been addressed.''

She had also noticed some freedom campers were returning to the peninsula's quiet ''nooks and crannies'' in recent weeks, which was something the trial aimed to put an end to.

However, while many residents remained concerned about freedom camping and its impacts, others within the community were ''very positive'' and welcomed them, she said.

The long-term solution remained a Department of Conservation-style camping ground on the peninsula, which the council planned to investigate next year, she said.

Mr Dahlenburg said security guards did not respond to the complaint on Thursday

because they were under instruction to visit at set times.

The security checks were carried out four days a week, at 8am and 8.30pm, to ensure freedom campers using the area were following the rules, and to move on any who were not, he said.

Macandrew Bay was among three areas designated for overnight stops by freedom camping vehicles without toilets as part of the trial, which was part of a push to ease freedom camping rules across the city.


I'll bet London to a brick that the number of freedom campers using the Mac Bay site will dribble down to 'manageable' after Easter, and remain that way throughout winter months and into spring. (With one exception: the weekend when the Poms play the ABs at FBS. Expect to see plenty of vans (etc) rocking up to the normal freedom camping hot-spots around Dunedin, when the English footy team rolls into town.)

Expect numbers to increase to usual levels about six months from now - you should start to see the numbers increase pretty much around when daylight savings' kicks back into life. It's been that way for about the last decade (plus). And there's nothing in the tea-leaves that I'm seeing that suggests 2014 is shaping up to be any different.

Still not working

Over the past two mornings a further 6 and 12 campers have occupied the site.  In fact over the past 2 weeks, the trend has been for numbers to be heading back to the levels seen over the summer.



Council needs to be realistic

For the record, the numbers of campers last week (Monday to Friday AM) were 6, 6, 8, 10, (11 if the station wagon at the yacht club is included), and 13 on the night featured in the paper.

Regardless of being for or against the campers, there are two important principles here. The first is that the council planning meeting was given inaccurate data or painted a false impression that camper numbers are now contained to a maximum of 5 per night. My daily observations suggest in fact that it is more accurate to say that there are almost always more than 5 vans. If the council is going to make important decision that affects the public, they need to be provided with an accurate picture. It is also important that accurate information is published.

The second issue is that the council is not actually enforcing the bylaw as suggested. The location of the site actually makes it almost impossible to enforce without constant patrols. The reason is the nature of the site where 5 parks are allocated but there are actually 21 available. It is physically impossible to contain eager campers when they come across the location advertised by the council.

I don't feel that most locals have an issue with 5 campers (there were in fact always campers in the area and they never attracted comment, and when numbers are low there are never issues with them). If the council is, however, to continue then they need to enforce their rules and be realistic on whether the site is either being controlled or if it can be controlled sustainable and without significant effort (7 days a week, 365 days a year).

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