27 Dec 2019

Diplomatic mission to change freedom campers' behaviour

8:53 pm on 27 December 2019

Waitaki District Council hopes playing good cop will turn around any problematic behaviour by freedom campers.

freedom camping. van. night time.

Ambassadors are educating freedom campers on where they can stay and the behaviour expected from them. Photo: Unsplash / Johanna Persson

The district has been beset by freedom campers in recent years, with locals often less than happy about their presence.

This summer, the council has appointed two responsible freedom camping ambassadors in the hopes taking a carrot-rather-than-stick approach will curb troublesome behaviour.

Richard Savage started work as a responsible freedom camping ambassador for the council on 18 December and will be joined by another colleague in early January.

The pair were tasked with educating freedom campers as to where they were allowed to stay in the district and their expected behaviour.

Though the ambassadors would have powers to issue fines if necessary, Savage said he hoped being the good cop would get campers on side.

"It's quite a change from what we've had in the past. In the past we've had quite a punitive approach to freedom camping where they've been fined if they have been in the wrong place or if they have been dropping rubbish," Savage said.

"So this is quite a different approach. We are going to be looking at educating the campers because basically they want to do the right thing.

"We are going to be out there raising the flag, making sure that they're happy, making sure locals are happy."

The new approach was the result of $40,000 from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Freedom Camping Ambassador fund.

The Waitaki District would be working closely with the Mackenzie and Queenstown Lakes districts' ambassadors to ensure consistency across the lower South Island's tourist hot spots.

Savage said he would be working split shifts getting out to meet campers in the early morning and then later in the evening to ensure they were where they were meant to be.

He would be covering the the Ōamaru area and the Waitaki Valley, while his colleague patrolled the Ahuriri Valley.

"It is a big area," he said.

"There'll be areas I cover every day, but there'll be areas I don't realistically get to more than once or twice a week."

Waitaki District Council's regulatory manage Andrew Bardsley said it was about using "education and gentle persuasion to do the right thing".

"We're trying a carrot-rather-than-stick methodology," he said.

"Fines will be issued if the carrot doesn't succeed, but we're hoping that that won't be necessary."

Last summer, councils throughout the South Island issued 2490 fines, with the majority concentrated in the lower half of the island.

Savage said he was looking forward to getting out on to the job and working with campers.

"I spent the summer of 2015/16, I basically did this role in a voluntary capacity at Campbell's Bay which was one of the hotspots of that particular summer with freedom camping.

"I'm really interested in freedom campers, their behaviour and promoting those people, promoting them in a positive light and making sure we get some economic benefit from it.

"So I'm really looking forward to the role. It's been an area of interest to me for quite a few years."

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