Trial by Bylaw

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.

People using the Peninsula countryside for toileting

People are using the Peninsula countryside for toileting and this devalues our community and our environment

6 thoughts on “Trial by Bylaw

  1. Bill and Lenni Allen

    Freedom Camping has been an issue for many years on the peninsula and New Zealand in general. Initially freedom camping was a quaint idea used by Kiwis while on holiday with their family, but with the influx of visitors and tourists on the Otago Peninsula it is now a major problem. The recent publicity and awareness of freedom camping problem that has arisen in Macandrew Bay is not unique. The new regulations for using specific areas for freedom camping has not increased the numbers of freedom campers, it has just concentrated them into the designated areas. Prior to this, freedom camping has not been a major concern for Macandrew Bay residents as the problem was not in their backyard.
    For many years Sealpoint Road, Taiaroa Head, Te Roana Beach, Maramoana Park, the Pineapple, the top of Camp Road etc have been utilised and abused by freedom campers. Previously enforcement was ad hoc and ineffective. When DCC was advised of people camping illegally on park reserve etc, no action was taken until possibly the following day, by which time the campers had left. Unless authorities control freedom camping by enforcing a routine pattern for control and penalties for infringements, nothing will improve. This enforcement needs to relate not only to designated freedom camping sites, but also the popular areas used by freedom campers learned from previous visitors to the area..
    Bill and Lenni Allen

    1. paulpeninsula

      Thanks for the comment Bill. I think you’re quite right that until the change in Bylaw there was never really a major issue. Concentration of people into an urban space has created tensions and issues over the use of the space. I do agree that enforcement has been ad hoc and needs mush greater strengthening. I’d like to see local citizen rangers appointed into the Peninsula to act as guides and information gatherers to ensure we manage the problem better. My main concern is the confusion around the Bylaw and the way it operates. Sage advice, keep in touch.

  2. Lala Frazer

    I agree with you Paul, and also Bill and Lenni. As one of the people who took part in the original survey of freedom campers – mostly in station wagons and some even in sedans – the problem in places like Maramoana which does not have a toilet, is when they use the edges of the reserve for this purpose. Presumably even more people than was obvious did that, but some took away the evidence. I can assure you that picking up toilet paper and occasionally faeces (so that it did not get counted twice) of those who did not remove the evidence was not pleasant. Certainly not a place I would want to take children to play.
    We have an excellent camping ground at Portobello and a private parking area provided at Te Rauone with public toilets nearby so in my view we should be encouraging the visitors to use these. In that way we know they really are contributing to the local economy!

    1. paulpeninsula

      Its the use of sites like this as toileting facilities that is making the residents of the Peninsula the most weary! People in the community have a right to be able to use their open spaces without having to worry about health risks from this sort of activity.

  3. Sharyn Clearwater

    Paul, Well written. The question I have asked myself each time I have driven past Mac Bay is, How can our council support one business ,that is the companies that hire the camper vans at the expense of local businesses,that is local camping grounds. The only city councillor who has questioned this is Andrew Whiley. So far the outcome of freedom camping at Mac Bay is ugly signs and the rate payer paying for increased monitoring by security staff.

    1. Paul on the Peninsula

      Thanks Sharyn. There’s definitely a need for better information about the economic impact and benefits of this activity in the community. Otherwise we’re just making decisions that are blind without understanding the consequences. The only thing I can do is keep asking the right questions and getting feedback from the community that this bylaw hasn’t reached the required outcomes in our community.


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