Marlborough freedom campsite could be replaced by camping ground

Phillip and Megan Walker, at the site of the old Koromiko School.
SCOTT HAMMOND/FAIRFAX NZ

Phillip and Megan Walker, at the site of the old Koromiko School.

Disused school grounds could be transformed into a cheap campsite near Picton, as the council tries to clamp down on freedom camping. 

The Collins Memorial Reserve site at Koromiko, between Picton and Blenheim, is a popular spot for ferry travellers in the Marlborough region. 

The Marlborough District Council wants to close the spot under its new freedom camping bylaw - however its closure depends on another campsite being set up less than 500 metres away. 

The former Koromiko School House between Picton and Blenheim.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

The former Koromiko School House between Picton and Blenheim.

Koromiko resident Phillip Walker said he was keen to set up a camping ground at nearby Koromiko School, which closed in 2012, though he was yet to get the go-ahead from the New Zealand Transport Agency. 

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State Highway 1 had to be widened to make it safe for vehicles to turn into the driveway, and NZTA told him he would have to pay for it, Walker said. 

A freedom camper at the Koromiko freedom camping site.
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A freedom camper at the Koromiko freedom camping site.

He was in ongoing discussions with the agency. 

"The whole plan was just to make it a cheap stopover place for the campers and that, where they can stopover and have a quick shower," he said. 

Walker, who used to be a freedom camper, informally told councillors about his plans at an assets and services committee meeting last Thursday. 

Some of the Koromiko School buildings were trucked to Tua Marina School in 2013.
JARED NICOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Some of the Koromiko School buildings were trucked to Tua Marina School in 2013.

Council chief executive Mark Wheeler said after the meeting his issues were between him and NZTA and had nothing to do with council. 

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Koromiko School closed voluntarily in 2012 because of a declining roll, and Walker and his partner purchased it last February. 

There were 17 pupils at the primary school when it closed. The Koromiko School hall was shifted to Tua Marina School in 2013.

Walker said for $8 per person campers would get a place to park their vehicle, toilets and a shower, and for a gold coin donation they would be able to use the former primary school's swimming pool. 

Twelve vehicles were currently allowed to park at the reserve for a maximum of two nights, and there was a toilet for freedom campers to use. 

The council's bylaw would be ratified by the full council in December after receiving preliminary approval from the committee last week. 

Council reserves and amenities officer Rosie Bartlett said at the meeting the Collins Memorial Reserve freedom camping site was regularly over-subscribed, and councillor Michael Fitzpatrick labelled the site "a total disgrace". 

It was unfair ratepayers were paying for toilet facilities for people who did not want to pay anything, he said. 

The bylaw

Other changes in the council bylaw included freedom camping being banned at the Blenheim Railway Station, where six self-contained vehicles could currently park. 

Self-contained vehicles would still be allowed to camp at the Wynen St car park in Blenheim. 

Seddon Domain was a restricted area, with people only allowed to camp in the camping ground administered by the Awatere Community Trust. 

Freedom camping was prohibited on French Pass Rd. 

Councillor David Oddie said at the council meeting that during the submissions phase there had been a "clear voice" from the Picton community, where freedom camping was still completely prohibited. 

"They don't want people stripping off [in public] and urinating against fences." 

A decision on how freedom camping would be monitored had yet to be made. 

A council ranger present at the meeting told councillors only 40 per cent of freedom camping fines were ever paid, because a lot of the offenders returned overseas. 

"That's a national problem we can't do anything about," he said. 

After the meeting Oddie said he was disappointed the monitoring issue was not addressed.  

"It is going to require enforcement of some sort, as much as the council doesn't want to spend funding." 

Oddie said he supported the camping spot at Koromiko being closed, and the Collins Reserve being used by the community again. 

A lot of people thought the reserve was only the car park, but it was considerably larger than that and extended up Freeths Rd, Oddie said. 

Deputy Mayor Terry Sloan said despite the council adopting the amendments to the bylaw, it would be a "working document" for a long time to come. 

"It's a bit of a tiger that we have by the tail. It's a moving beast," he said. 

Councillor Laressa Shenfield said after the meeting she knew it had been difficult for the freedom camping subcommittee to come up with the new regulations, and she was comfortable with the way it had been dealt with. 

The bylaw would be discussed at a full council meeting on December 15. 

 - The Marlborough Express

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