Free campsites to stay but Buller facilities uncertain

Free campsites developed in Buller and Westland last summer will stay open after government funding runs out at the end of this month, although the Buller ones may not be serviced.

Government funding for freedom campsites ends today. The sites were developed by the Buller and Westland district councils tapping into the tourism infrastructure fund as the Government's answer to the freedom camping problem.

However, they infuriated campground owners, who said the council-sponsored free sites were killing business.

A Greymouth Star census one morning in late February found 200 vehicles and at least double that number of tourists enjoying a free stay. Many did not have on-board toilet facilities.

Another survey found the freedom campers - mostly in old cars or "sleepervans'' - were spending as little as $20 to $50 a day, including petrol.

Tensions spilled over at the height of summer at Kakapotahi, when locals began policing the site to ensure only the allotted number stayed each night.

The sites have remained busy, after a brief lull when the first hint of cooler weather arrived.

Buller has free camping areas at Punakaiki, Fox River, Westport, Hector and Reefton.

Mayor Garry Howard said the council would not put up gates, but had to decide whether to keep servicing the sites' toilets.

Mr Howard said his council had applied for more money.

However, it was asking through its draft long-term plan what it should do if the Government did not provide further funding.

"Should ratepayers pay? There is considerable concern being expressed.''

In Greymouth, it is business as usual, with a new toilet block about to go in at the Blaketown tiphead. The council says fines from errant freedom campers parked in the wrong spots cover the cost of toilets and rubbish facilities at the free campsites.

The Westland District Council has funding to keep its campsites from Acre Creek to Paringa open until the end of May.

The council is also reviewing its freedom camping bylaw, which could prohibit freedom camping in more areas.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said his council had enough money left for the sites to remain open until the end of May, not April as planned.

After May, the toilets and rubbish facilities - costing $3000 a week to service - would be removed unless further government funding became available, Mr Smith said.

"The sites as such will remain but there will be no facilities.''

The free sites were controversial, especially those at Acre Creek, Kakapotahi and Bruce Bay, and held a maximum of 50 vehicles a night.

The cost of enforcing freedom camping is out for consultation as part of the council's draft annual plan. The council proposes funding $55,000 to continue to employ two part-time enforcement officers previously funded by the Government.

"There is no guarantee that there will be further funding available for compliance staff to monitor responsible camping activities in the future,'' the plan says. "For council to continue with this activity will require additional funding of $55,000.''

Submissions close on May 24.


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