I’m just not convinced that city councillors fully understand the freedom camping issue on the Peninsula (ODT). Undertaking “Bylaw by trial” is not what’s required here and its a poor alternative to appropriate policy based on real evidence and research. The other issue is the fallacy that “there must be a demand” because of the people using Macandrew Bay as a camping site. That’s like saying all students are drunks because of the broken glass in the street. By creating the site at Macandrew Bay the Bylaw has artificially created the demand because the Council have offered something that is free and available. If you’re a traveller why would you pay when you can have something for free? In the 20 years I’ve lived on the Peninsula, freedom camping has never been so bad since the liberalisation of the new bylaw. I also don’t buy into the notion that these types of visitors won’t use a campground anyway. There’s no freedom camping allowed by Lakes District Council in Queenstown unless you’re in a self contained vehicle, and even then sites are restricted. So where do they go? You can’t tell me that many of the visitors that turn up in Dunedin don’t visit the Queenstown area. So they must use accommodation providers when they’re there, surely.
The other big “myth” about freedom camping is its contribution to the local economy. I say it’s a myth because even tourism authorities can’t actually place a value on what it contributes to the economy. Which leads me back to my first comment that policy decisions need empirical evidence and with the bylaw trial we’re not seeing that research being done. I’m not talking about a basic count of numbers, I’m talking about actual rates of camper’s consumption of services and attractions vs. cost, understanding choice selection of services and service demand. Without that economic information the bylaw is largely a hopeful punt, which in its present form isn’t doing our community any great service.
As to the notion of a “DoC” style camping ground I’m quite dubious about this option as a real solution. Should the Council be competing with the private sector in the accommodation market? Does it actually have the funds to create such an option? Looking at the present Annual Plan I’d have to say it probably doesn’t have the capital to do so. Which leads you back to the private sector option. If the demand for a “DoC” style freedom camping site is so high as we’re led to believe, why hasn’t an investor in the private sector taken up the challenge? Quite simply I’d say because the returns on such an investment are not that economic. Which means that if the Council were to create such an area they would be creating a ratepayer subsidised camping ground. So not only would it be in direct competition with the private sector, but it would actually need to subsidise the service with ratepayers money to make it work. That’s not good economics for either the private sector or the ratepayer, especially when we have no idea what freedom camping actually contributes to the local economy. The alternative and fairer approach would be to work with private sector accommodation providers to look at a commercial option to solve the problem. The other issue though is that freedom camping is not just a problem for the Peninsula community. It’s actually an issue for the whole city, so any type of campground option needs to meet the needs of the city at a strategic level.
I don’t have all the answers, but I would say that resourcing staff in the enforcement aspect of this issue is in need of a review and that would certainly be a good start. We’ve seen that the signage and patrols at Macandrew Bay have made a difference, but is it too late? None of that enforcement action came early enough and now we’re into Autumn the visitor season is waning. One of the other issues with the Bylaw for visitors and residents is that it’s too complicated. The whole notion of “contained” and “non contained” vehicles is very misleading. You have limits on numbers and length of stay for certain sites based on vehicle type, but no ability to actually police that over the entire city. This complicated formula and lack of enforcement resources largely makes the rule redundant. The other point is that even “contained” camper vans still create problems. It’s well-known in the accommodation sector that hirers of camper vans with toilets pay a $500 bond for cleaning, but if you don’t use the toilet in the van you get part of your bond back! Figure that one out!
One of the things I am certain of, is that many Peninsula residents welcome visitors, but they’ve grown weary of people taking advantage of their region. It’s time we took control here and managed this in a better and more consistent way. We need less cheerleading and more empirical information on how to make visitors stay here, a pleasant one without damaging the lifestyles and businesses of our community and region. Below is a picture of the Okia Reserve car-park on the Peninsula, the toilet paper is a reminder that we have visitors who show little respect for our landscape and environment. Most wouldn’t do that at home so why do it in ours? Its time for change.