QLDC to fight pro freedom camping legal action
Queenstown Lakes District Council plans to fight a legal challenge by New Zealand’s biggest freedom camping organisation, which alleges QLDC is unfairly punishing responsible motor homers by its “prohibitive” freedom camping bylaw.
The issue is dividing many sectors of the community, ironically because of irresponsible behaviour by pre-Covid rental campervans.
An Upper Clutha campground owner says although freedom camping is seen as a birthright to many Kiwis, it’s unreasonable to expect camping to be entirely free, particularly in the Southern Lakes district.
The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Incorporated (NZMCA) is taking QLDC to the High Court, saying its effective ban on freedom camping is illegal.
Albert Town campground manager Rudi Sanders says the NZMCA is “stuck between a rock and a hard place” because they’ve been lumped in with the worst kind of freedom campers.
“The overseas slider door vans that used to park everywhere in Queenstown and just in domestic streets, on driveways even and wherever they found a spot, they would camp and leave a bit of a mess as well,” Sanders says.
He says NZMCA membership has increased by the thousands since COVID-19 closed the borders, and members do support local by staying at holiday parks.
However, he disagrees with the NZMCA's claim to need more freedom camping areas.
“You know, I enjoy freedom camping myself, but freedom camping does not mean it always has to be free camping.
He says there are plenty of spots in the region including Albert Town, Lowburn, Moke Lake and the 12 Mile Delta that aren’t free, but are available to use at a small cost.
“There’s always a cost involved and someone's got to pay for it and it's not fair for the ratepayers of Queenstown to fork up those costs.”
The NZMCA alleges the council failed to provide areas where self-contained campervans could go when it adopted its current bylaw in November 2019.
QLDC Chief Executive Mike Theelen says the council “is now taking legal advice and anticipates defending the proceedings, alongside its planned comprehensive review of freedom camping, and continuation of other tools used to manage camping in the area.”
Theelen says the adoption of the current freedom camping bylaw followed a “full special consultative procedure” which NZMCA participated in.
A decision was also made to review the bylaw within 18-24 months of adoption, he says.
Theelen pointed out that the Department of Conservation, Land Information NZ and Waka Kotahi NZTA also have sites across the district that are available to campers and “a collaborative effort by a range of agencies has been the focus to ensure a comprehensive response to camping demand.”
“Our district has long been a mecca for freedom campers of all shapes and sizes and the bylaw review in 2019 sought to balance the needs and expectations of campers and our local communities whose locations often bore the brunt of overuse and at times very antisocial behaviour by some,” Theelen says.
QLDC says it will provide a further update on the freedom camping location review in the near future.
Crux received the following comment from the NZMCA via social media:
"We (NZMCA) appreciate this is a sensitive issue for Queenstown-Lakes District residents and I want to assure you the decision to challenge QLDC’s bylaw was not made lightly. We have tried every possible avenue over the past 10 years to reach an amicable outcome with QLDC, with zero success. Our members want to enjoy freedom camping responsibly in the district, however as QLDC have acknowledged there are very few places for them to do so under the bylaw (safe and desirable places, not just on the road side). We’re certainly not advocating for an open slather free-for-all.
QLDC has also acknowledged our members aren’t a problem, yet they have received $200 fines for questionable freedom camping parking offences, some of which were invalid and reluctantly withdrawn by the Council. We have reached the end of our tether and see no other way forward but to seek assistance from the courts."
James Imlach, NZMCA National Property and Policy Manager