Freedom campers have rights to safety

Last updated 13:00 19/02/2014

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OPINION: It sounds for all the world like Nelson's mayor is getting out the cattle-prod. In demanding action on freedom campers, Rachel Reese is calling for urgency to be taken before the city has to deal with a situation that could get out of control.

"Today I've asked the chief executive to put in place any actions we can to immediately improve errant behaviour in Millers Acre car park," Mrs Reese says in a media release. It's direct and forthright tone leaves no room for ambiguity.

Freedom camping has become something of a hardy perennial issue in recently years, and its growth and impacts are most apparent in summer. As with most aspects of city life, the greater the numbers the more likely we are to need rules to control behaviour for the greater good.

Successive councils around the country have been frustrated over the past decade or so about the increasing popularity of freedom camping. Striking an appropriate balance between the need to welcome visitors and crack down on those who misbehave has proved difficult. The greatest impact comes from those hell-bent on seeing New Zealand on the cheap, often in old bombs.

One step up from them are those in the most basic hire vehicle, also with next to no facilities. Both groups are most likely to abuse trust, cut corners and take advantage of our hospitality. That's not always the case of course, and judging books by their covers can spark many wrong conclusions.

Even the most top-line motorhomes are never completely "self-contained". They do need to be able to dump waste and take on water, for example. Mostly, facilities laid on at ratepayer or taxpayer expense are used for these purposes.

The Nelson council is now arranging for more frequent cleaning of public toilets, additional enforcement (who pays?), and more education so freedom campers are more likely to know what our city expects from them.

As a first step in response to comments by Nelson MP Nick Smith and, apparently, others in recent weeks, this is all appropriate. It's in no-one's interests - including their own - if they overwhelm and spoil the parts of the city they congregate in most prolifically. There's a feeling that too much freedom is allowing them to poop in their own nest, as it were, which risks spoiling the very essence of what they come here for in the first place.

Mrs Reese is also signalling that the current legislative guidelines the council is following might not be sufficient and is asking CEO Clare Hadley to investigate "enduring options". Great. But let's not lose sight of the fact many young people here to see our country on the cheap are doing exactly what so many Kiwi youngsters flock to Asia or Europe for. The Great OE is a rite of passage that New Zealanders should understand as well as anyone.

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And while freedom campers might be on the verge of overwhelming hot spots in Nelson and further afield, at least for them they will feel some safety in numbers. Most concerns could be met by providing specific, basic, user-pay facilities at existing campsites and insisting they use them - but that's not exactly "freedom" camping, is it.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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