Freedom camping trial to proceed

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan addresses Catlins residents’ concerns about a proposed freedom camping...
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan addresses Catlins residents’ concerns about a proposed freedom camping trial, during a public meeting in Owaka yesterday morning. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
A freedom camping trial in the Catlins will go ahead this summer, despite continuing reservations among residents.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan and Catlins ward councillor Hilary McNab held a public meeting in Owaka yesterday morning attended by about 25 businesspeople and residents, many of whom had expressed serious concerns regarding the trial.

The meeting was convened after last week the Otago Daily Times revealed the trial's shortlisted locations and initial parameters, first aired during a council meeting on August 8.

Due to strong public push-back on those proposals, Mrs McNab indicated she was now favouring two, rather than three, sites, with a maximum of 15 self-contained freedom camper vehicles at each (down from 25).

The latest sites under consideration are an undecided "location in Owaka", and part of the Tautuku car park, beyond Papatowai.

The council has earmarked $25,000 for the trial, in response to what it says are growing public concerns about uncontrolled freedom camping in the popular southern tourist area.

Mr Cadogan acknowledged the council had been slow to react to the issue. Doing nothing was "no longer an option".

"Legislation says [freedom campers] can visit us and, at present in Clutha, park where they like.

"So instead of doing nothing, let's herd them in, clip the ticket, and get our message straight. 'This is where a limited number of you can park, close to businesses. The rest of you can use our local commercial campsites, or sling your hook'."

Several people raised questions about the efficacy of policing the project.

At present, a sole "responsible camping ranger" patrols both the Southland and Clutha sections of the Catlins, an area of 1900sq km.

In response, Mrs McNab asked attendees if they would be prepared to pay increased rates towards a second ranger.

"It's too late this year to change bylaws regarding policing of freedom campers, without full and proper consultation. This proposal allows us better to control the situation this season, and gain valuable insight that can feed into that eventual consultation."

A minority expressed support for freedom campers, and concerns they should not be "vilified" by any changes in policy.

Mr Cadogan echoed those concerns.

"We need to align ourselves with our [Southland] neighbours, where they have a similar system that works. Rather than driving them off to another part of the country, let's control and benefit from them as best we can."

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