In the last few months we’ve seen the knotty problem of freedom camping in areas like Warrington raised by the community. Having spent the last three years on the Otago Peninsula Community Board dealing with this issue its become clear that we must act far more decisively than we have done to date. That means investment, dialogue and looking at innovative ways to control the effects of the activity on local people and local areas.
In the Peninsula example the Dunedin City Council undertook a trial of using the main street of Macandrew Bay. The result was an influx of campers in non self-contained vehicles stretching local resources to the limit. With it came significant unrest among the community and others that supported the trial. After consulting with the community the Board sought a change in the bylaw and a removal of the trial area from Macandrew Bay and this changed the problem dramatically. The bylaw also removed non self-contained vehicles off public areas onto designated areas or private motor camps. Unfortunately, in the Warrington example that change has brought about even greater pressure on the site as it becomes more popular for visitors. In my view, its time we moved away from ad hoc schemes and took a more planned approach to the issue city wide. A more comprehensive approach to the issue should:
- Undertake proper research into visitor accommodation and expenditure through the University of Otago Tourism Department to have real data for decision-making and planning.
- Invest in appropriate infrastructure so that we no longer have to “make do.”
- Develop in partnership with the Department of Conservation or private enterprise for DoC style campsites with water, toilets and rubbish collection that can be used by campers for a nightly fee.
- Have limits on the numbers at certain sites to reduce the stress on communities.
- Close sites during the off-season to give the community a break from visitors.
- Create jobs or contracts for the management of sites within the community for local people. No one is a better ambassador than a local person.
- Resource enforcement, signage, and information properly so that everyone understands the rules.
- Ensure non self-contained campers are in a designated freedom camping area or private camping ground only.
- Look more deeply at the availability of land suitable for the activity.
I don’t have a golden bullet or a magic wand to solve the problem, but we must take a far more pragmatic approach to the issue.