Plan for freedom campers on way

Nelson City Council is working on a plan to accommodate freedom campers in the city which could include provisions for cycle tourers wanting to pitch tents, but is adamant it is not being swayed by vagrant Lewis Stanton and his law-breaking habits.

Mr Stanton, also known as Hone Ma Heke, is now camping in Marsden Valley after being reunited with his horse, Barney, halting his lengthy protest against the council in central Nelson.

However, residents have complained to the council about his presence in the area and others now being asked their views on whether Mr Stanton should be allowed to camp on reserves near their homes do not support the idea, council network services executive manager Alec Louverdis said.

Staff were directed by councillors in June to bring back a report on the option of a camping permit with conditions for Mr Stanton.

Mr Louverdis said depending on the results of the consultation, issues around Mr Stanton "may or may not be resolved".

"At the moment he is free to stay at the [Marsden] cemetery."

Mr Stanton's horse and cart were seized last year after he kept repeatedly breaking bylaws by camping in council parks and reserves. This was after the council imposed a blanket trespass order on Mr Stanton in an attempt to stop him entering most of the public reserves in the city, but the order was thrown out in court.

Running parallel to efforts to find a solution that would suit Mr Stanton and the public is the council's update of its current freedom camping bylaw which expires today.

Last year the council tightened rules around freedom camping to address the problem created by some freedom campers soiling public parks and spaces. Self-contained vehicles had to use existing camping grounds and free sites in private car parks around the city available to New Zealand Motor Caravan Association members.

Vehicles without self-contained toilet facilities were encouraged to take advantage of a low-cost camping option at the council-owned Maitai Valley Camp.

A few months later the Government passed the Freedom Camping Act, which meant councils could not put a blanket ban on freedom camping in all areas.

It made temporary provision for instant fines to be issued to campers breaking the rules, and last year forced a review of Nelson's camping bylaw to make it comply with the new act.

City councillors Eric Davy, Kate Fulton, Derek Shaw and Mike Ward were recently assigned to a working party to consider updating the Nelson City Camping Bylaw 2012 and make recommendations to the council. Ms Fulton said Mr Stanton's situation had no bearing on the review under way.

The aim was to have a bylaw in place that reflected the act as much as possible, and which would allow people to move through the city.

Ms Fulton said the act was quite prescriptive and meant councils could really only limit freedom camping to areas considered fragile, such as the Boulder Bank and parts of Tahunanui Beach.

It allowed for councils to have zero-waste strategies and the aim would be to place freedom camping zones near public toilet blocks.

Ms Fulton said the working party also wanted to accommodate cycle tourers wanting to camp.

The public would be asked for feedback during pre-consultation and again once the draft was finalised, which was likely to be later this year.

In the meantime, from next Monday the council might not be able to stop Mr Stanton from freedom camping until the new bylaw is in place.

"From September 1 anyone who camps in a [council] reserve can be issued a trespass notice but not a fine," Mr Louverdis said.

The Nelson Mail