Working party on freedom camping

Camping area at Bendigo, April 8 . Photo: Pam Jones.
Camping area at Bendigo. Photo: Pam Jones.
The problem of freedom campers is being assigned to a working party, to begin as soon as next month.

A law change is not being ruled out.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis met 32 mayors and deputy mayors from around the country in Wellington yesterday to hear horror stories of tourists using bushes and rivers to toilet and shower, and overrunning parks so locals could no longer use them.

He said the problems would not be a quick fix.

"There's issues around the Freedom Camping Act itself, whether it needs to be looked at and whether it's still fit for purpose.

"Infrastructure is an issue. Consistency around messaging and signage."

Mr Davis said the possibility of law changes meant relief was probably 18 months away.

But the working party, to be established before the Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) conference in April, would also be asked to find other, quicker solutions.

"I'm not going to pretend that I know what all the solutions are.

"We're very keen to work together, both local and central government," he said.

"The issue is broader than just more toilets."

LGNZ president and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the issue had reached crisis point in some parts of the country.

"It's clear that areas like Queenstown Lakes, Mackenzie, Rotorua, places where there are already a lot of tourists, the sheer volume of freedom campers is putting a lot of strain on the environment, and on the financial resources of ratepayers.

"We clearly want visitors to our country, but we've got to manage the volume.

"There's only a finite capacity in terms of space and in terms of infrastructure."

There needed to be a national approach that gave consistency for tourists, but still allowed for local councils to decide where camping was allowed.

While Mr Cull and his fellow Otago mayors are putting their faith in the working party, they are also asking for more immediate action.

The working party is to be made up of representatives from local and central government as well as the tourism industry and other stakeholders.

Mr Cull said no-one expected immediate solutions from the meeting but the establishment of the working party was a good outcome.

Immediate solutions could be in place by the start of next summer, he said.

The working party needed to make a clearer distinction between what was and what was not a self-contained vehicle and how that was governed.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said the working party was a good step but he hoped it did not become too big and too cumbersome to be effective.

More public toilets, better signs and an overhaul of the legislation which governed self-contained vehicles could be done almost immediately, he said.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan also supported the working party and was hopeful it would find a solution to fit the different needs of all the councils.

It was obvious from talking to the other mayors a one-size-fits-all approach would not work, Mr Cadogan said.

He hoped the working party would find a solution for where local councils were unable to address issues in their own district, such as the freedom camping problem near Lake Dunstan on land governed by Land Information New Zealand.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said while each district would want its own bylaws and policies, a minimum national standard for freedom camping would make it much easier for councils.

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