Marlborough to shut many freedom camping sites after public backlash

7:34 pm on 26 November 2020

Two-thirds of Marlborough's council-owned freedom camping sites will shut under a new draft bylaw.

The Marlborough District Council is looking at banning non-self-contained vehicles from its freedom camping sites.

The Marlborough District Council is reviewing its freedom camping bylaw for the fourth time in 14 years. Photo: LDR / Chloe Ranford

Of the council's five freedom camping sites set to remain, two violate national reserve rules and four are waiting on resource consents to make camping there legal.

The Marlborough District Council's freedom camping sub-committee will vote tomorrow whether to impose a revised freedom camping bylaw, more than a year after councillors agreed to amend it "with urgency" for the fourth time in 14 years.

The first version of the bylaw drew the ire of residents earlier this year after it suggested closing four freedom camping sites, but opening three others - one at Ward Domain and two in Picton.

Ward residents worried the new site would endanger their stock, environment and "sacred" war memorial, while residents in Picton feared loud noises, "inappropriate behaviour" and losing parking.

The sub-committee responded in a document released this week ahead of Friday's vote by scrapping the three proposed new sites, plus another eight existing ones, leaving the council with just five sites.

It said impacts from freedom camping had been inappropriate and "over time, these impacts are becoming unsustainable".

Campers can still park up at commercial campgrounds or at the about 50 Department of Conservation's campsites, for a fee.

Changes to the bylaw would ban freedom camping outside the five sites and prohibit non-self-contained vehicles from staying at the five remaining sites.

In red are the Marlborough District Council-owned freedom camping sites set to close if a revised draft bylaw is approved on Friday.

In red are the Marlborough District Council-owned freedom camping sites set to close if a revised draft bylaw is approved on Friday. Photo: Supplied

The five open sites are at Blenheim's Wynen St car park, the Taylor River Dam, south of Blenheim, the Renwick Domain, Lake Elterwater Reserve, north of Ward and the Wairau Diversion.

But the sub-committee noted the Renwick Domain and Taylor River Dam were not legal under the Reserves Act, as the minister for conservation had not agreed to freedom camping at the sites.

In addition, all but the Renwick Domain required resource consents, because camping was not permitted at the sites under the region's environment plan. Applications for the sites would soon be lodged.

Under the revised bylaw, the council would close the controversial Double Bay site in the Marlborough Sounds, where residents said tourists defecated in their gardens and stole water and tools.

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Double Bay residents asked for the freedom camping site near their homes to be closed earlier this year as travellers invaded their privacy. The council has heard those concerns and will shut the site. Photo: Chloe Ranford/LDR

To stop Double Bay's closure from affecting the council's two remaining Sounds campsites at Ohingaroa Bay and Anakiwa, the sub-committee ruled all three sites should become picnic areas.

Anakiwa's Village Green site was metres from the Queen Charlotte Track entrance and saw "considerable parking pressure".

Also on the chopping board was Awatere Valley's Blairich Reserve site, due to fire risk, and Rai Valley's Alfred Stream Reserve.

Freedom camping sites at Brown River Reserve, Ohauparuparu Bay and Koromiko Recreation Reserve were earmarked to close under the draft bylaw, which the sub-committee supported.

The Wairau Diversion, east of Spring Creek, would replace Koromiko's controversial site as the halfway rest area between Picton and Blenheim, and would receive new toilet blocks and a full-time "ambassador" employed between the November to March period.

The council was considering charging or requesting donations from users of the new toilets, as it was a perk, not a necessity.

Under the new bylaw, the council had the power to close freedom camping sites that were overcrowded, considered a flood or fire risk, were used for a council-approved event, needed maintenance, or needed "a period of recovery" after camper damage or overuse.

Changes to the bylaw were promised following a landslide of submissions against freedom camping during last year's annual plan process, mirrored again this year by Double Bay residents.

If approved, the new bylaw would be in effect from Tuesday.

Proposed freedom camping site changes (council owned):

  • Wynen St car park - open to one night stays, 6pm to 9am
  • Renwick Domain - open to two night stays, 6pm to 9am
  • Lake Elterwater Reserve - open to two night stays
  • Wairau Diversion - open to two night stays
  • Taylor River Dam - open to two night stays
  • Picton High St car park - proposal pulled
  • Picton Memorial Park - proposal pulled
  • Ward Domain - proposal pulled
  • Brown River Reserve - closed
  • Ohauparuparu Bay - closed
  • Koromiko Recreation Reserve - closed
  • Alfred Stream Reserve - closed
  • Ohingaroa Bay Reserve - closed
  • Double Bay Reserve - closed
  • Anakiwa Village Green - closed
  • Blairich Reserve - closed
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