Editorial: Welcome one and all

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 09/01/2014

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OPINION: The freedom camping story we ran on Saturday raised quite a reaction.

This was the one where owners of local camping grounds said freedom campers were taking advantage of Timaru's hospitality because too many of them were staying at once at the Caroline Bay carpark allotted to them.

A sign there states 10 motorhomes or caravans can stay there each night, but 20 to 30 had been seen.

In an editorial on Monday we suggested the council should either enforce its bylaw or scrap it.

And then the emails started arriving. Motorhome owners came out firing. "Because we are self contained we have no need to go to camping grounds," they said, and "we spend plenty of money in the towns we stop at", ran the argument.

Fair enough, to a point.

Motorhomes are not self contained. At some point they have to dispose of their waste, human and otherwise, and take on water. These are services provided, at some cost, by the local authority.

The local authority that has some responsibility to the rate-paying businesses in its district, like camping grounds.

But two other things then emerged.

The Timaru District Council bylaw isn't a bylaw at all, it's a policy. Because other councils were having difficulty in implementing a bylaw a few years back, Timaru backed off, and put up a sign instead.

A sign whose warning can't be enforced.

And then the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association said it wanted to work with freedom camping-friendly councils to the extent even of paying to have dump stations installed.

That being the case, it becomes difficult to argue against putting out the welcome mat. They become de facto ratepayers, as well as spenders in the local economy.

It will still require monitoring and planning though. The Bay carpark is also used by others, and there is a limit to the number of vehicles it can hold. And there will still be issues with freedom campers who are not self contained and the rogues who dump their waste anywhere or who look to set up semi-permanent homes in a specific spot.

More and more people are adopting this nomadic lifestyle. There is an overall benefit in making our districts attractive to them, as Waimate has done. But keep an eye on the few who can ruin it for all.

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- The Timaru Herald

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