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Flashpoint for freedom camping

GISBORNE District Council faces a growing problem with freedom camping and a review of the bylaw covering it is urgent, the council’s monthly meeting was told.

The flashpoint leading to the debate was a petition presented to the council asking that freedom camping be moved from the Makorori carpark.

When the issue was raised later in the general business section of the meeting, councillors debated whether freedom campers were responsible for problems at Makorori, but agreed that the bylaw review should be done in time for next summer.

When the council was discussing fees and charges for regional compliance monitoring, Mayor Meng Foon said freedom camping was a cost to the council even though it did benefit shops, service stations and supermarkets. It was ratepayers who had to pay someone to go out to issue infringement notices and pick up the rubbish.

Brian Wilson said things changed. People demanded a better environment and that cost money. There had to be a balance, the message had to be that people were welcome but this was not a freeloaders space, and “we want you to look after the environment”.

Josh Wharehinga said a good monitoring system was needed to ease tensions between the different groups using parking spaces. Queenstown had banned freedom camping in some places.

Larry Foster said there was a huge issue at Makorori. People out there were not happy, he said. Their normal way of life was being intruded on. If freedom camping continued at this rate the council had a huge problem.

Work was going on to promote the former AML site for freedom camping, he said. The council wanted to promote freedom camping but needed to look at how to police it better. The bylaw review needed to be done before next season.

Andy Cranston said many of those commenting on the Makorori situation on Facebook were from out of town and responded emotionally.

He had continued to monitor the site two to three times a day, recording the number of visitors, condition of the beach and state of the toilets. He did not agree with claims of tampons and rubbish being left behind.

There were issues with rubbish but who was to say it was the freedom campers? There were more locals than freedom campers in the area every time he was there, he said.

He had been going there for nearly four weeks and was always able to drive into a car park, and had never seen much rubbish. He did not agree with the wording of the petition but there was a potential problem coming. By 12 o’clock the carpark was near capacity and if it continued to grow there would be a problem.

This camping area worked because there was a toilet. If the campers were moved to somewhere where there was not a toilet, there would be a problem.

Pat Seymour questioned how it was possible to distinguish between local surfers and freedom campers.

It was a gorgeous area and it was beautiful when the sun was coming up, and a lot of young people were enjoying the region. They were not doing much harm, she said.

“Look at it, yes, but be a bit reasonable.”

Spokesman Jason Te Aho presented the council with the petition calling for freedom campers to be banned from the Makorori carpark.

Surfers used to stop on the hill but had been moved down to the carpark where they faced issues like noise and verbal abuse.

Rubbish, tampons and faeces had been seen in the area. He read some of the 128 comments received in support of the petition.

The turn-off was dangerous and there had been near misses with logging trucks.

They wanted freedom camping relocated from the 100kmh zone to somewhere safer.

Mayor Meng Foon declined to accept questions from councillors on the petition but later allowed the debate in general business.

Some users of Makorori Beach are not as happy as these ones.