Car park campers under fire

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 13:00 18/02/2014
Ralph Kingston
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

UPSET: Claire Fleming, of River Kitchen Cafe at Millers Acre, is concerned at the impact of freedom campers in the adjoining car park.

Ralph Kingston
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
HAPPY CAMPER: German tourist Torbem Kraft, in his car at Millers Acre, says the car park is a safe place to stay.
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Freedom camping in central Nelson car parks is making the city look "cheap and shabby", says MP Nick Smith.

Business owners are also concerned at the impact of tourists using city car parks as makeshift campsites.

Dr Smith is urging the Nelson City Council to tighten up its freedom camping bylaws which he says are "too liberal" and have led to camping getting "out of control" this summer.

Since September last year, the council has allowed freedom camping for certified self contained campers (with toilet and washing facilities) on council land, except in residential areas and on public parks and reserves.

Camper vehicles without toilet facilities can camp close to public toilets. That has seen an upsurge in freedom campers in the Buxton and Montgomery squares car park, and at Millers Acre.

Dr Smith, who is also Conservation Minister, said freedom camping at sites like Millers Acre had "gotten completely out of control this summer."

"This is a prime central city site for which ratepayers and taxpayers have spent millions on a world-class DOC and information centre. We should not allow it to descend into a free-for-all campground for hundreds of travellers who refuse to pay the basic cost of staying in our purpose-built campgrounds," Dr Smith said.

"This liberal approach to freedom camping is not doing anything for Nelson's visitor industry and our reputation. I'm getting complaints from visitors who love our city but say this is making us look cheap and shabby."

He said the toilet facilities were never designed for the campers staying in the Millers Acre car park. Surveys found there were 25 to 40 vehicles a night staying there, and only one or two had self-contained facilities.

Dr Smith said the toilets were overloaded with people using them to wash up camp dishes and personal washing, and using them as changing rooms.

He was most concerned about the non-self-contained campers in the central city, saying they should be staying at campgrounds.

The Nelson Mail visited the Millers Acre carpark this morning and saw about 20 vehicles camped out, mostly stationwagons and vans. None appeared to be self-contained.

River Kitchen co-owner Claire Fleming said while she liked the idea of freedom camping, she wanted to see it better regulated.

Her cafe was next to the car park and she said tourists had strung hammocks outside her cafe to sleep in, and put up blue tarpaulins as makeshift tents.

She was regularly asked for hot water and oil for campers to cook outside, and asked if they could charge their laptops at the cafe.

"My main concern is the rubbish blocks the public toilets, they have to be unblocked about three times a day.

"It's quite different at night, our staff feel a a bit uneasy, sometimes they [tourists] are out there sleeping on the pavement."

She wanted to see the area better supervised and campers made to move on in the morning. She said washing-up areas were needed at the car park.

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"It's not a good look for Nelson," she said.

Nelson mayor Rachel Reese said the council was taking the issue seriously. She had asked chief executive Clare Hadley to investigate and report back.

Mrs Reese said she spoke to Dr Smith yesterday on the issue and was aware of complaints from businesses and residents.

"We want to warmly welcome all tourists to the city but they need appropriate accommodation for people, and I don't think a car park is appropriate accommodation."

She agreed with Dr Smith that the facilities at Millers Acre were "under considerable pressure".

German tourist Pia Moller was camping out last night at Millers Acre, as she said she was travelling without much money.

She would freedom camp about four nights a week, and then spend three at a hostel or campground with facilities.

She said freedom camping saved her money to go to tourist attractions, like skydiving.

"We really have to look after our money, to do tourist stuff, New Zealand is expensive," she said.

Fellow German visitor Torben Kraft, who was sleeping in his stationwagon, said freedom camping in the car park was "a great thing". "There are enough places to go to sleep here, we feel safe."

He used a gas cooker to make his meals on the ground near the car.

Tasman District Council chief executive Lindsay McKenzie said they were also experiencing problems with freedom camping, especially around Port Motueka and along Golden Bay beaches.

The council had issued three $200 infringement fines to campers at Port Motueka this summer for breaches of the requirement for self-contained vehicles. "When the freedom camping act was passed the Government opened up the nation in a manner that concerned me; it allowed it everywhere and it restricted councils' ability to restrict it."

- Nelson

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