Caravanners say rules too strict

The camper van site set up by the Queenstown Lakes District Council near tthe Red Bridge, Luggate...
The camper van site set up by the Queenstown Lakes District Council near tthe Red Bridge, Luggate, PHOTO: ODT FILES
New Zealand’s largest motor caravanning group is challenging the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s freedom camping bylaw in the High Court.

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA), which has more than 116,000 members, has asked the High Court to quash the bylaw.

At a hearing in the High Court at Invercargill yesterday, the NZMCA argued the bylaw was overly prohibitive and illegal.

After a public consultation process in 2021, the council approved a bylaw allowing restricted freedom camping at only one site, in Luggate.

Campers cannot stay more than two consecutive nights at any one site, and must be in a self-contained vehicle.

NZMCA counsel Phil Page said the council made errors of law in drafting the bylaw, and "opened Pandora’s box" by commissioning a consultant’s report that wrongly considered the impacts of freedom camping on neighbouring property owners.

Assessments of 105 sites by the consultant considered the effects of noise and litter, and the impacts on views, privacy and property values.

Nine sites were subsequently recommended, with the council reducing that number to five in the proposed bylaw after adding new criteria.

Mr Page said by allowing public submissions on the bylaw to be influenced by irrelevant matters under the law, the council "miscued the consultation process" and created political pressure to adopt a highly restrictive bylaw.

The result was a highly restrictive bylaw that included a ban on freedom camping across all of urban Queenstown and Wanaka.

"It’s difficult to see how a council of the most popular tourist region in the country, acting reasonably, could be satisfied that providing only one identified freedom camping site is the most appropriate and proportionate way of addressing concerns about freedom camping.

"It is NZMCA’s view that there are many sites available within the district that can accommodate responsible freedom camping."

Council legal counsel Shane Campbell said the process it followed in making the bylaw was "robust", and complied with the Freedom Camping Act and the Local Government Act.

The NZMCA had made much of the consultant’s report, but it was only one "tool" and piece of evidence the council had used.

Mr Campbell said the council’s restrictive approach to freedom camping was a reflection of the public’s view of the activity, and it was in the "invidious position" of trying to mesh those views with the expectations of one lobby group.

Justice Robert Osborne reserved his decision.

— Guy Williams, PIJF court reporter