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Freedom Camping Dilemma

There is an interesting situation regarding the new Freedom Camping By-law recently enacted by our Council.

I have made my support for the outcome, if not the process extremely clear over time, and remain convinced that it is an excellent means by which to regulate the particular problem that has been faced by this District over a long period.

The current issue as I see it arises where the By-law runs smack up against the provisions of an existing Act, in this case the Reserves Act 1977. I am not sure that our Council staff have fully explored just how this juxtaposition may affect the administration of the By-law.

With certain specified exceptions – Tapu Reserve being one, camping is prohibited – yes, prohibited on Council reserves. If the By-law permits camping (albeit in ‘complying’ vehicles) in reserves as defined in its schedules, this may give rise to a challenge that may well end in the courts. The relationship of the Reserve Management Plan (a requirement of each Council reserve) to the By-law may need an interpretation.

A Reserve Management Plan may only be altered with a comprehensive review accompanied by a public notice and consultation. That requirement has not been met to date to my knowledge in relation to any of the reserves covered by the By-law, nor has any notice been provided of such a review and consultation in the future.

Council lawyer – Paul Davies has indicated to me that - “The challenge for Council is moving to align these two regulatory tools when it comes to camping.” That would suggest that he at least is aware of the jeopardy, though he did go on to say that "the By-law doesn't supersede or overrule the management plan, it was simply another regulatory tool that the reserve user must comply with."

What I suspect may happen, sooner or later, is that well-endowed and motivated locals in any number of areas where campers may use the new By-law to park their self-contained vehicles on reserves, will band together to issue a court challenge that may well result in the By-law being found wanting.

I would like to see the By-law working, but Council will already be aware that there are many cantankerous and litigious residents out there determined to protect their patches against invasion by campers, no matter how well equipped.

It could be suggested that this situation should have been anticipated, and the necessary reviews (and consultation etc.) initiated, even before the By-law was enacted. It is not good governance to put the ‘cart before the horse’ on this or any other matter of this importance, and it could prove quite costly. 


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Reader Comments (2)

Interesting post and from a planning perspective I am pleased someone else is considering the dilemma TLAs nationwide are beginning to face. My understanding is that TCDC officials are cognisant of the potential issues and have plans to reconcile conflicting policy provisions (following due process of course). I think this is good practice. I do sympathise with the Councils task at hand because whilst necessary, moving towards an integrated management regime is challenging - especially when you add to the mix provisions under the operative and proposed district plans. I would hope the community allows the Council some time to get their mind around the best way forward as there is no "model" to follow, although we can learn from the experiences in other areas, e.g. integrated water resources management.

Legal advice suggests the FCA does not trump camping-related provisions under other statutes (for example see Simpson Grierson advice on LGNZs website). So if, for example, freedom camping on a reserve was a permitted activity under the bylaw, but not under an RMP or the DP, then those restrictive provisions should apply, and vice-versa.

December 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames Imlach (NZMCA)

Thank you James - an excellent and well thought out comment.
My feeling is that the issue is certainly exercising the minds of a number of the more 'gung-ho' types who wished to see the By-law on the books before worrying about consequential matters - an unwise approach in my view. We will now see what emerges over the next few months - interesting!

December 5, 2014 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

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