Bylaw on freedom camping signalled

Freedom campers relax at the Bendigo campsite in January. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Freedom campers relax at the Bendigo campsite in January. PHOTO: PAM JONES
A freedom camping bylaw seems on the cards for the Central Otago District Council region, as Mayor Tim Cadogan says the council needs to stay ahead of changes coming from Land and Information New Zealand (Linz).

Mr Cadogan said yesterday there were ``changes in the wind'' with the way Linz managed its Lake Dunstan camping sites, including how to monitor freedom campers, and how to best manage the costs of doing that.

When asked if Linz was going to start enforcing a maximum stay at sites such as Bendigo, Lowburn and Champagne Gully, Mr Cadogan declined to provide more details and referred questions to Linz.

A Linz spokesman said Linz was ``in discussions'' with the district council about ``a range of potential future options'' for managing freedom camping in the region.

``This includes strengthening our monitoring regime and looking at how we can best manage our costs given growing demand, particularly at peak times, as part of a wider freedom camping strategy which is still being developed.''

But there were no plans to introduce enforcement of freedom camping areas yet, ``given that discussions about future options are still ongoing and that the strategy is still in its early stages. The strategy is not expected to be formalised until later in the year'', the Linz spokesman said.

Mr Cadogan will be a guest speaker at a Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) freedom camping symposium in Nelson tomorrow, and he said he expected an announcement from Linz about its changes to freedom camping would be made at the symposium.

He said the changes being discussed between Linz and the district council ``may cause an overflow away from the lake [Dunstan] to other areas in Central Otago'', and the council needed to prepare for that.

``We have to get ahead in my view, and my councillors agree with me that we need to put some rules in place.''

At present the council has only a freedom camping policy, not a bylaw.

The policy encourages campers to stay in areas where there are facilities, such as Bendigo and Lowburn, and has signage to say camping is not permitted in some other areas.

However, because it was only a policy, not a bylaw, it had no legal standing and could not be enforced, Mr Cadogan said.

He said the CODC policy had worked ``by and large'' so far, but the ``sheer influx'' of campers over the last two summers had strained some areas.

He now thought a freedom camping bylaw was needed, but said more education for visiting campers was also needed.

Mr Cadogan said he thought New Zealand had ``let itself down'' as a nation, in two areas.

One was by not communicating clearly to visitors ``what's OK and what's not OK''.

New Zealanders assumed tourists would know what behaviour and freedom camping was acceptable, but many visitors genuinely did not know that, and needed clear guidelines.

There had also been no consistency about what was permissible in different areas throughout New Zealand, Mr Cadogan said.

Some areas wanted more freedom campers and others wanted them gone, which was confusing for tourists, he said.

District council staff would now prepare reports on a possible freedom camping bylaw to present to councillors, and the issue would hopefully be discussed around the council table within three months, he said.

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