Cut to campsites an ‘overreaction’
Changes to New Plymouth’s freedom camping laws have been likened to United States President Donald Trump’s idea of a Mexico border wall to keep people out.
At an extraordinary meeting of the New Plymouth District Council last week, camping at the region’s most popular spot, the Waiwhakaiho River mouth, was banned and the number of parks available for freedom camping across the district was reduced.
It was a turnaround after a meeting last year where the council’s message was ‘‘let them come’’.
After initially opening the district up to all freedom campers last year, the council later adopted changes early this year that restricted campers to 54 parks – 31 parks near the Waiwhakaiho River, six spaces at East End Beach, two near the Wind Wand and 15 at Kawaroa Park – because of overcrowding.
However, after last week’s meeting the number of available spaces for non-selfcontained campers was reduced from 54 to 15, spread across three sites, from December 14. Self-contained campers are allowed throughout the district so long as they are parked legally.
It’s like Trump, councillor Mike Merrick said. ‘‘The message to freedom campers is we’ve built a wall. That’s not who we are, but that’s how we are going to be viewed.’’
The changes have left him disappointed. The council hadn’t known how many people would come, he said.
‘‘They caught us on the hop. They came in waves. [But] this is an overreaction.
‘‘Young people from the other side of the world mingling and mixing with local people is a good thing. Now they are going to go off to other places.’’
However, Freedom campers Gwen Crooijmans, 22, and Lars van Afferen, 24, from the Netherlands, said it was the region’s isolation, not lack of camping spots, that would be the bigger deterrent. ‘‘We have the time to come, so it’s OK. Other people coming to New Zealand might not call in this way.’’
The pair said they had heard about the restrictions on an app called CamperMate.
People were messaging about it. They were paying $80 a day for their campervan and couldn’t afford $50 a night to stay at a camp ground.
They had just arrived and hadn’t seen the city yet, but the location down at the Waiwhakaiho River mouth was very pretty, they said.
Councillor Murray Chong, who stormed out of last week’s meeting in protest at the council’s stance, said council hadn’t listened to the public when making the decision.
Chong believed certified-self-contained campers should be allowed at the district’s reserves, despite it being illegal to camp in reserves. ‘‘I don’t class them as camping. I think most people would accept them in our reserves.’’
The majority of councillors don’t understand there is a difference between selfcontained and certified-self-contained, he said.
Two years ago, the council voted to make make New Plymouth a motorhomefriendly city and has spent about $50,000 trying to find some land for them to stay, he said.
The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association has 83,000 members and Chong said some of them were already messaging on Facebook that they wouldn’t come to New Plymouth now.
He said the car park at Yarrow Stadium would be a good place for freedom campers as the council had built toilets and changing rooms.
‘‘Charge them $10 a day. They can’t arrive until 5pm and have to be gone by 9am. Fifty campers: that’s $1000 a day [with two people in each]. That would pay for a manager and cleaning.’’
Meanwhile, the $156,000 council received from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s tourism Facilities Development Grant Fund for a portable ablutions block and improvements for managing sewage, rubbish and signs at the Waiwhakaiho River mouth, including Big Belly Bins, will be used elsewhere.
In an emailed statement, New Plymouth District Council customer and regulatory solutions manager Katrina Brunton said the toilet and shower block could be placed where it was needed most.
‘‘Under the NPDC bylaw, non-selfcontained campers will be allowed into three areas in the district, so we will look to how best use the infrastructure in these areas.’’
None of the funding to NPDC from the fund was allocated for any specific area so the council will still be putting these things at other places where they’re needed, Brunton said.