Cut to camp­sites an ‘over­re­ac­tion’

Taranaki Daily News - - News - He­len Har­vey he­len.har­[email protected]

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.

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