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'Not again': Queenstown's council introduced freedom clamping in 2016 to help control the influx at popular recreation spots, including the northern end of Lake Hayes

By MARJORIE COOK

Rural Queenstown residents are up in arms over council plans to put freedom camping sites in their neighbourhood reserves.

City Hall’s investigating options to locate sites around the Whakatipu, including at White
chapel, near Arrowtown, and Morven Ferry.

But neighbours are worried there’ll be a repeat of issues seen at Lake Hayes a few years ago if they go ahead.

Queenstown council’s community services general manager Thunes Cloete says on the council’s website staff assessed all potential sites in the district, before issuing a survey to get a feel for issues before more formal consultation starts.

Survey results released on Monday show just seven of the 820 people who responded said
freedom campers had no impact at all.

Most say freedom camping’s got a ‘‘negative’’ or ‘‘somewhat negative’’ impact on the district and want greater restrictions on where people camp for free.

A total of 77 respondents identified as members of the New Zealand Motor Caravan
Association (NZMCA) and another 45 identified themselves as freedom campers.

NZMCA property and policy manager James Imlach’s confirmed the association didn’t respond to the survey, although members did.

Judicial review: New Zealand Motor Caravan Association property and policy boss James Imlach

The association lodged a judicial review claim against the 2019 bylaw in March, a month after council started working on the new bylaw.

Imlach says the association’s now waiting for council to respond.

‘‘I did have a look at the survey but we decided not to respond to it because we prefer to talk to the QLDC through the judicial review process.

‘‘We’ve already done a site assess ment and didn’t want to complicate things,’’ Imlach says.

Council’s media man Sam White says the judicial review is ‘‘ongoing’’.

‘Freedom facilities should be privatised’

Meantime, the survey showed gravel parks at the Luggate Red Bridge and Gibbston Reserve are the most popular choices for where freedom campers could go, with far less support for free camping on more attractive public reserves in outstanding natural  landscapes — for example, Whitechapel and Morven Ferry sites, which are both on reserve land next to the Arrow River and bike trails.

Whitechapel resident Lisa Guy tells Mountain Scene it’s time campervan hire companies  make private arrangements with land owners, rather than relying on communities to provide facilities.

She’s not knocking council, though, which she says is just following national directives to
designate freedom camping sites.

‘‘But my personal opinion is that freedom camping for NZers went by the wayside many generations ago … the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association has negotiated private arrangements.

‘‘This is a responsible organisation.’’

Along with worries about transport safety and access at the proposed Whitechapel site, she’s also got concerns about potential conflict between campers and other recreation reserve users, as well as the potential risk to native plants and wildlife.

She and Mike Hanna, of Morven Ferry, think council would be better off supporting formal campground businesses, or sending freedom campers to Department of Conservation (DoC) sites, so DoC could get more income.

For his part, Hanna says freedom camping was first properly thrust on New Zealand during the 2005 Lions tour.

‘‘I think it is being thrust on us again,’’ he says.

He feels the survey design’s flawed and didn’t give people any real options to identify preferred sites — the Morven Ferry and Whitechapel sites are in the middle of a cycle trail hub, while proposed Glenorchy sites are supposed to be for boat launching and public recreation.

Hanna believes it’ll lead to more conflict between campers and reserve users such as dog walkers, cyclists and swimmers.

‘‘We have been through this before with Lake Hayes, when everyone was camping there  and it was just disgusting.

‘‘We just don’t want that.

“We have a vision that doesn’t happen again,’’ Hanna says.

White says council staff are now analysing feedback from the survey and preparing a report for elected members.

If councillors agree with the report there’ll be a four-week consultation period on the draft Freedom Camping Bylaw 2021, and a submissions hearing, before the final version of the bylaw’s approved.

ed@scene.co.nz