Plans to clamp down on illegal freedom camping in Marlborough with designated ranger

Marlborough Sounds councillor David Oddie says more direction is needed from Government when it comes to freedom camping.

Marlborough Sounds councillor David Oddie says more direction is needed from Government when it comes to freedom camping.

A ranger whose sole purpose is to sniff out freedom campers in Marlborough could be on the cards after huge numbers of illegally-parked vehicles were moved on during a month-long trial.

About 20 vehicles a day were ordered to pack up their stuff last month, with 685 vehicles moved in total - many of them from the Koromiko campsite near Picton. 

The Marlborough District Council is considering putting aside $30,000 for a designated ranger this year to deal with the campers. 

Collins Memorial Reserve on SH1 in Koromiko between Picton and Blenheim is a popular freedom camping site.

Collins Memorial Reserve on SH1 in Koromiko between Picton and Blenheim is a popular freedom camping site.

Picton residents and business owners support the idea, but would also like stricter rules and more fines. 

* Freedom campers owe Marlborough District Council $5800 in unpaid fines
Bylaws clean up Marlborough freedom camping
 Freedom camping restricted

The council's bylaw, amended late last year, prohibits camping in certain areas, and sets out designated campsites for self-contained or non-self-contained vehicles.

Freedom campers in Marlborough.

Freedom campers in Marlborough.

Picton Smart and Connected freedom camping spokesman Richard Briggs said his community group still believed freedom camping in Marlborough should be restricted to self-contained vehicles. 

"Every local authority has the ability to say 'no' to non self-contained campers," he said. ​

Consultation with the Picton community last year found people did not understand why Marlborough was allowing people to stay for free.

Collins Memorial Reserve is often overcrowded.

Collins Memorial Reserve is often overcrowded.

"None of us can really understand why the Marlborough District Council wants to set up free campsites in competition to [accommodation] businesses," Briggs said. 

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However, he was pleased the council was policing its own freedom camping rules.

It was particularly important since the British and Irish Lions tour was happening in June and July, and more than 20,000 supporters were expected to come through Picton.

Briggs said he did not blame the freedom campers themselves, and admitted he would take advantage of free camping spots if he was a traveller in his teens or 20s.

"I think we all would," he said.

The ranger proposal is up for discussion at Thursday's council meeting, as part of the region's draft annual plan.

The trial camping patrols, carried out by a council contractor, ran between December 29 and February 1.

Freedom campers had racked up $6200 in unpaid fines in Marlborough since July last year, although only one fine was at the enforcement stage.

Picton Top 10 Holiday Park owner Roger Kett said having a ranger was a good idea, but he or she had to be allowed to enforce the penalties properly.

"It's much-needed. It'll help fund the cost of a permanent ranger," he said. 

Kett hoped having a ranger would deter people from camping illegally near his business then going in and showering or using the kitchen for free. 

"It's not holiday-making, it's just bludging off us.

"We got three yesterday. It's those sorts of people that need some law enforcement after them, and a ranger would be a good start." 

Freedom camping had traditionally been more of an issue for Picton than Blenheim, with some freedom campers parking up and waiting to catch the ferry to Wellington.​

During the trial camping patrols more than 200 people were moved on from problem spot Collins Reserve, situated at Koromiko near Picton, a designated camping area which was frequently overcrowded. 

Other freedom camping hotspots people had been moved on from included sites where camping was completely forbidden, such as Queen Charlotte Drive, Pollard Park in Blenheim, Havelock, and the Picton township. 

The region implemented the bylaw in 2012, but had trialled changes since 2014, amending the rules at the end of last year. 

Marlborough Sounds ward councillor David Oddie said patrolling the camping areas was necessary.

However, the issue of campers not paying fines was a national problem which was difficult to solve, as by the time the paperwork had been sorted out the campers had often returned home. 

"How we could utilise that tool better has always been a difficult question to answer." 

When it came to Koromiko, it was impossible to police the site 24-hours a day. 

"How high do you want your rates to be? That's what I'd ask," Oddie said. 

Oddie said more leadership was needed from central government on freedom camping. 

Tourists did not see different districts but viewed the North Island and the South Island as a whole, and it did not make sense for different regions to set different rules, Oddie said. 

Council reserves and amenities manager Rosie Bartlett said the council would have to finalise the dates the ranger would work, as they would not be needed during the winter months.

The cost to the council would be $30,000 from July 1 this year to June 30 next year. The council already had part-time and fulltime reserves rangers, who carried out a "whole raft of activities", including looking after waste, graffiti, and camping in reserves. 

Ninety-nine per cent of people reacted well when asked to move on during the camping trial, Bartlett said.  

Oddie said he had not received any complaints from individual residents this summer, but had heard complaints from backpackers' accommodation owners and from Smart and Connected. 

 - The Marlborough Express


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