The regular sight of half-naked men showering in public has left one of the city’s most prominent spots looking like “Steptoe’s backyard”, as the district struggles to cope with a surge in freedom camping.
Speaking at Gisborne District Council’s community development and services committee meeting, Horouta Waka Hoe Club spokeswoman Kathy Hayes raised concerns about the behaviour of freedom campers at the Marina carpark.
“For us the issue is whether the Marina carpark is an appropriate place for freedom camping.
“There are some issues we come across on a very regular basis. Campers in cars are washing dishes at the ramp — with food waste and detergent running into the river. People are showering at the cold shower on the ramp, often in their underpants. We seem to find young men especially standing there in their underwear washing themselves in the shower.
“Last year there were also several episodes of people hanging washing lines in the trees. We also see people sleeping in tents on the side of the river.”
She questioned if allowing freedom camping in cars was appropriate at all when other councils only permitted freedom camping in vehicles with a self-contained toilet.
She suggested the council change its Freedom Camping bylaw to remove the Marina carpark as a freedom camping spot. If that was not impossible, then reduce the number of days people could stay overnight at the Marina (it is currently three days) and restrict freedom camping to self-contained vehicles.
There also seemed to be a lack of monitoring and enforcement of the council’s three-day stay rule, she said.
Fellow waka ama club member Kathy Sheldrake said the problem had been getting worse over the past two years around Gisborne’s freedom camping spots — Kaiti Beach, Makorori and the Marina.
“At Kaiti Beach, when Rhythm and Vines was on last year, I counted 92 cars in the carpark.”
The meeting was told a review of the Freedom Camping Bylaw was under way.
Malcolm MacLean said it was needed.
“The Marina is the front window into our rivers but unfortunately it looks like Steptoe’s backyard (a reference to the 1960s and 70s British TV comedy series about a father and son’s rag-and-bone/scrapyard business),” he said.
“It is a shambles and it needs tidying up. There must be other places to go.”
Larry Foster said the issue of freedom camper behaviour and numbers needed to be addressed.
“I’m getting really uncomfortable with our bylaw as it stands. I’d like to see a review and some changes made before the summer.
Freedom camping spots ‘trashed'“At Kaiti Beach, it is out of control. The Marina carpark is over the top as well.”
Mr Foster said he often saw people queuing up for the toilets at Kaiti Beach but people would then relieve themselves behind the sheds because the toilet was not big enough.
“It absolutely stinks. It’s looking really sad at the moment.”
He suggested Gisborne needed a large facility to house the growing numbers of campers.
“We don’t want to discourage freedom camping but we need to control it because at the moment Kaiti Beach is being trashed, the Marina carpark is being trashed and the same with Makorori.”
Bill Burdett said the ill-disciplined behaviour of campers was also a “huge problem” in the northern areas of the district.
Councillors Amber Dunn and Shannon Dowsing also noted the need for a full review.
Committee chairman Andy Cranston said the council had been “really remiss” in allowing freedom camping in non-self-contained vehicles.
The issue needed to be looked at but the contentious issue would be where to allow self-contained camping and what premises would be used, he said.
The issue was raised again at the environmental planning and regulations committee meeting. Mr Cranston asked what was being done about enforcement.
Environmental services and protection director Nick Zaman said it was a complex issue as there was confusion between summer and freedom camping.
The council had “infringed” people in the past and moved them on, but had not actually prosecuted them.
The cost of prosecution was very significant for a maximum fine of only $400.
“It is more of a progressive compliance and education programme,” he said.
A full report on a new bylaw for freedom and summer camping would not be ready as planned in August, but a report on enforcement would be brought to the committee soon.
Ms Dunn said she would have liked to have seen this done a bit quicker. There would not be a lot of time before the next camping season.
Rehette Stoltz said all the people wanted to know was where they could camp and what it would cost.
Josh Wharehinga said more signage was needed to show what people could do, as well as their obligations when it came to their dogs.