Resident describes feeling unsafe due to nearby freedom campers

6:30 pm on 17 September 2020

A freedom camping site in the Marlborough Sounds violates national rules protecting the "pleasantness" of reserves, says lawyer Simon Gaines.

No caption

Double Bay residents Vic Koller, Kevin Wilson, Kathryn Omond and Matthew Omond asked Marlborough District Council to close Double Bay freedom camping site. Photo: Chloe Ranford/LDR

A hearing panel is discussing a draft freedom camping bylaw, which would shut four freedom camping sites in Marlborough.

Double Bay residents, who are fed up with campers defecating on their gardens and stealing their water, pleaded for site at Double Bay Reserve to be included in the closures.

Simon Gaines, legal representative for Double Bay residents, said councils had to provide reserve areas, such as Double Bay, for the "enjoyment of the public", under the Reserves Act.

Keeping Double Bay's freedom camping site open under the new bylaw would be inconsistent with these rules, he said.

"To reach that finding that it's OK to have Double Bay available for freedom camping would require the council to give little weight to expert opinion, to disregard the residents' evidence, and be deaf to the ratepayer voice," Gaines said.

Maggie Curteis, who lives next to the Double Bay site, said six vehicles were allowed to park at the site each night, but this was often exceeded.

"They still continue to defecate in the reserve, on the beach and in our gardens, although there is a toilet on site... Our properties have become an extension of the campground."

Kathryn Omond, representing 25 Double Bay residents, said they were at a loss as to why the expert's review was ignored.

"The negative impact on us is significant and ongoing.

"The natural environment is regularly used as a dumping ground for raw sewage... and the quality of life is nowhere near what it should be," Omond said.

Double Bay resident Christine Hall choked up describing how she felt "unsafe" in her home.

Campers often knocked on her door asking for food or water, to do laundry, to use her wi-fi, or to camp on her lawn.

"Freedom campers have taken away my freedom," Hall said.

She and her husband planned to sell their self-contained campervan as freedom camping had "lost all appeal".

"My willingness to help freedom campers changed the day one vehicle got bogged down... They took shovels from our garage to free themselves. We only heard of this when a neighbour came over to return the tools to our property."

Double Bay resident Vic Koller said after nine years supporting the site, he had decided "freedom camping doesn't work".

The Double Bay locals were supported by Moetapu Community Association chair Kevin Wilson, representing 144 residents in the area, who wanted the site to close.

The Cook Strait from the Marlborough Sounds.

Freedom camping is upsetting local residents at Marlborough Sounds. Photo: LDR / Chloe Ranford

Marlborough District councillor and hearing panel chair David Oddie said if they ruled in favour of the Reserves Act, most freedom camping sites in Marlborough Sounds would close.

An expert hired by the council to review freedom camping recommended the Double Bay and Ohingaroa Bay sites be closed to better align with the Reserves Act.

Campers at Double Bay recorded the most infringement notices over the past three years, second only to Ohingaroa Bay and Koromiko Recreation Reserve.

The bylaw proposes closing freedom camping sites at Koromiko Recreation Reserve, Brown River Reserve, Elterwater Reserve and Ohauparuparu Bay. It would also ban campers at Marfells Beach Rd and Grovetown Lagoon.

Council staff said earlier this year the plan to keep the Double Bay site open reflected the views of some residents - but it could close if public opposition to camping in the bay was expressed at the hearing.

The hearings closed yesterday and the bylaw that is decided on is expected to be in place before summer.

no metadata

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs