Campground faces closure

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 03/03/2014
Brook Valley Holiday Park
MARTIN de RUYTER/Fairfax NZ

SHOCK ANNOUNCEMENT: Brook Valley Holiday Park permanent residents, Bob Lynch, Patricia Horlemann, Alistair Corner, Brian Williams and Dave Heap outside Heap's permanent site at the campground.

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Angry long-term residents of Nelson's Brook Valley Holiday Park are vowing to fight the bombshell announcement that the Nelson City Council is likely to shut it down, forcing them to move.

They were hand-delivered a letter from council chief executive Clare Hadley on Friday, telling them that the long-established campground is running at a significant loss, which is being borne by ratepayers, and the council intends to close it.

The same message was given at a meeting with council community services chair Pete Rainey yesterday, where disbelieving residents were told that the campground is costing ratepayers $175,000 a year.

Mrs Hadley's letter said councillors agreed last week to close the campground. Public consultation in April will give all Nelson residents a chance to have a say.

No more bookings would be taken "while the future of the park is considered", with a final decision due in June, the letter said.

If the closure went ahead, it would most likely happen towards the end of this year, with everyone living there required to leave by November.

There would be sites available at the Maitai Valley Motor Camp, Mrs Hadley wrote.

However, five residents the Nelson Mail spoke with on Saturday said they didn't want to move to the Maitai, and doubted if many of the dwellings that the 50 or so long-term residents occupied were able to be relocated.

A lot of the housetrucks, buses and caravans have built-on extensions, giving the residents a feeling of permanence and privacy. Some have lived there for 15 to 20 years, with many more clocking up five years or more.

They agreed that they would be willing to see a modest increase in their charges if it meant they could stay there.

The residents said they were currently paying $66 a week for a single person, plus metered power, or $80 with power included. The comparable couples charges are $88 and $105.

Dave Heap, 70, has lived at the campground for more than 20 years, on and off, and has also worked there.

He said he suspected that the council had plans for the property, possibly related to the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary and a proposed gondola.

"They know what's going on but nobody's saying anything."

Mr Heap is a cat owner - his housebus has a special ladder for his pet. He said many other residents had cats, but the Maitai campground allowed dogs, so it wasn't a good option for them.

He believed the campground had only been losing money since it was taken over by the council two years ago and subsequently put under Nelmac management. The ban on new bookings meant that revenue from tourists and visitors was being lost, worsening the financial position.

Fellow resident Bob Lynch said it was "like a military operation" when 16 Nelmac staff arrived in five cars, paired off with clipboards and maps, and delivered the letter from Ms Hadley. The contents were a shock, he said. "We'd heard rumours but nobody has said anything".

He said the attractive fees were important to residents but not the most important thing.

"‘Most of us are here not because we have to be - the main reason is, we like it here."

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The campground was ideal for freedom campers, and was well-situated and equipped as a refuge for Nelson if there was a natural disaster, he said.

"I wonder what decided [the council] to close this rather than the Maitai? I suspect there's other plans here."

Alistair Corner said the council had allowed residents to build annexes on their caravans and mobile homes, many of which had been in place for years.

"There's probably 50 per cent of the homes here cannot be moved. They're a permanent situation."

The residents were forming a committee to fight the closure, he said, and yesterday's meeting with council representatives had hardened their resolve.

Mr Corner said the residents had worked out that the campground was collecting $170,000 to $200,000 a year from them, and could not see where the council's $175,000 loss could have come from.

Fellow resident Patricia Horlemann said she moved to the campground because the fees freed her to invest in her podiatry and reflexology business.

"I've got a loan to pay this unit off, and it's worth nothing now. If I was to move, I'd like the council to come to the party and give us some financial help."

Mr Rainey said this morning that as a councillor, he worked on financial information provided by council staff.

"I've no reason to doubt that at the moment. When you start looking at things in a more focused way, often things come to light that are different.

"That's why I place a lot of faith in the submission process - there have been plenty of occasions in the last few years where the council has proposed something that has been turned around."

The closure wasn't a foregone conclusion, and he didn't know of any hidden agenda, he said.

"With the current council, you've got a group of people who are prepared to listen and make their minds up after listening."

Mr Rainey said it was quite clear that the city had excess casual camping capacity. "Whether it comes out that other camps should potentially be the ones to be targeted remains to be seen."

He said residents at the meeting yesterday, held at St Joseph's School hall, were "genuinely shocked and quite angry - that's their home".

"We were at pains to point out that it was just the beginning of a process."

THE BEST THING ABOUT THE BROOK VALLEY HOLIDAY PARK

Dave Heap, 70, resident on and off for more than 20 years: Peace and quiet. It's a relaxed atmosphere – there's not pressures like you have in town, and you don't get junk mail delivered.

Bob Lynch, 66, five years: I love the social aspect – being able to talk to my neighbours when I go out the door.

Alistair Corner, 66, six years: I like it for the lifestyle up here – mountainbiking, walking on all the tracks.

Patricia Horlemann, 45, two years: The security. There's no riff-raff. Brian Williams, 68, eight years: Peace and quiet.

- The Nelson Mail

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