Freedom camping trial to continue

Vans parked at Ralph Ham Park in Macandrew Bay. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Vans parked at Ralph Ham Park in Macandrew Bay. Photo by Gregor Richardson.

A freedom camping trial ruffling feathers in Macandrew Bay is to continue, despite protests from Cr Neville Peat.

Cr Peat, an Otago Peninsula resident, called for the trial to be scrapped immediately at yesterday's planning and regulatory committee meeting.

However, his move fell flat after he failed to even find a seconder, leaving councillors to vote to investigate alternative sites while the Macandrew Bay trial continued in the meantime.

That would allow council staff to consult the public on the alternative or additional trial sites, on Otago Peninsula and elsewhere in the city, councillors decided.

The sites to be investigated were to include reserves in Portobello, Ocean Grove and Harwood, but Cr Kate Wilson pushed for sites across the city to be considered, to alleviate pressure on Otago Peninsula.

Council acting reserves and recreation planning team leader Paula Dickel's report to the meeting said the aim was to find an alternative site as soon as possible within the 2014-15 season.

However, it would be ''challenging'' to have any new site operational before Christmas, and broadening the search to make it city-wide would only extend that timeline, she said.

Earlier, Cr Peat argued the trial at Macandrew Bay should stop immediately, as the site was in the wrong place, lacked proper facilities, and had caused ''amazing friction''.

The council should instead look ''very carefully'' at alternative sites.

Harwood was possibly the best option, but more consultation was needed, he said.

However, Cr John Bezett said while he sympathised with Cr Peat's argument, he could not agree to it.

Simply stopping the Macandrew Bay trial would only move the problem ''somewhere else'', and the council needed to address the issue, Cr Bezett believed.

''It's not the ideal solution, but I think we are working towards what will hopefully be the ideal solution.''

Mayor Dave Cull also supported investigating alternatives while the Macandrew Bay trial continued, but doubted it would solve the long-term issue the council would eventually have to confront.

Government legislation sought to enable freedom camping, but the only council facilities capable of catering for campers' non-self contained vehicles, including public toilets, were mostly in urban areas, he said.

That meant the council would eventually have to consider whether to invest in a new, purpose-built facility, despite not being in a financial position to do so, he predicted.

''I think we could be back here in a few months ... and then the question will be do we have the will, or the obligation, to build a site?''

Councillors voted in April to continue the two-year trial at Macandrew Bay until it could be reconsidered in detail at yesterday's meeting.

The area beside Ralph Ham Park had been designated during the trial as one of three overnight stops for freedom camping vehicles without toilets.

The Macandrew Bay site was supposed to cater for up to five vehicles each night, but more than 15 stayed some nights, prompting complaints about campers' behaviour.

The Otago Peninsula Community Board in March called for the council to end the trial at Easter, and resume it in a new peninsula location in October.

However, councillors later voted to continue the trial, at least until this week's meeting, after being reassured stricter enforcement and new signage was helping ease problems.

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