Legality of CDC’s freedom camping site questioned

A Catlins accommodation provider has challenged the legality of a controversial freedom camping site in Owaka.

However, site operator Clutha District Council says the site falls wholly within regulations, and will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Catlins Gateway Motel owner Trevor Hewson told the Otago Daily Times this week he had queried several aspects of the Owaka freedom camping site in Inn St with council chief executive Steve Hill, after conducting research that suggested it could fall foul of legislation.

In an email to Mr Hill, which Mr Hewson shared with the ODT, he questioned whether the site had resource consent; if it had had a proper risk assessment carried out before it was created; and whether it contravened the Freedom Camping Act, due to its placement on private land belonging to a commercial campground operator.

Responding to the claims yesterday, Mr Hill said he was satisfied the council had answered all Mr Hewson’s questions regarding the legality of the site, and no further action need be taken.

"Council’s view is that the current use of the site does not generate excessive or nuisance noise, does not generate high traffic levels, and does not have the effect of attracting vehicles to the site for the purposes of servicing, maintaining and/or storing those vehicles. Therefore the activity is permitted under ... the Clutha District Plan. No resource consent is required."

He went on to say the council had met its decision-making obligations regarding risk assessment at a meeting on August 8, 2019.

Responding to Mr Hewson’s final point, Mr Hill said the council disagreed the land neighbouring the freedom camping site — which belongs to the Clutha Licensing Trust — could be regarded as a commercial campsite.

However, the trust’s website states it has "a campervan park at the rear of the hotel with powered sites on inquiry".

Mr Hewson said he would like to see the council site closed.

In his email to Mr Hill, he said the site should have been set up on council, rather than trust, land.

"At the end of Covid lockdown council indicated it was to become a permanent site if the trust was agreeable.

"Expanding their campground operation for free with no resource consent, of course they would be agreeable."

Mr Hewson described the arrangement with the trust as "using ratepayer funds [to support the trust] by directing a regular number of freedom campers to a monopoly's business."

He decried what he regarded as "arrogance" on behalf of the council.

"If I said, ‘I’m going to set up a free campsite on my property just like you’ve done on Inn St, I don’t need a consent,’ I’d like to see what happened next."

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan did not respond directly to Mr Hewson’s comments, but said the majority of residents were now happy with the site.

"Council’s freedom camping consultation and decision-making has received overwhelming support, and what was a vexatious issue is now seen by the vast majority as a positive outcome."

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