26 Nov 2015

Councillors clash over campsite proposal

7:53 pm on 26 November 2015

Plans for a council-managed campground in Wellington's Owhiro Bay have been put on hold after councillors clashed in a testy debate.

Local residents at the meeting.

Residents who attended a meeting in October opposing a Wellington City Council plan to develop what it called a low-cost campground in Happy Valley Park. Photo: RNZ/Shannon Gillies

They argued today about the merits of the proposal to put a campground on part of Happy Valley Park, which would be managed by the Wellington City Council and provide some basic amenities at no cost.

The group of 14 councillors battled it out to make their points, with some heated exchanges as they made their cases to the council's environment committee.

Proposed campsite at Wellington's Happy Valley Park.

Proposed campsite at Wellington's Happy Valley Park Photo: Wellington City Council

The Wellington City Council had planned to develop what it called a low-cost campground, as the nearby one at Red Rocks was overflowing, but encountered opposition from residents in Happy Valley and Owhiro Bay.

Some homeowners complained at a public meeting last month that campers would make too much noise and dump rubbish, and were worried about transient people close to a school and kindergarten.

They said Happy Valley Park could became a freedom camping site, with concerns raised about freedom campers leaving a mess after staying in the carpark at Owhiro Bay.

But environment committee chair Iona Pannett said she did not agree with a recommendation that council officers needed to do more research over the summer to see if it was viable.

Safety concerns were not an issue, Ms Pannett said.

Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett.

Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett Photo: Wellington City Council

"If we're going to have a campground, it will be managed, and I guess children do see things that maybe are not entirely desirable, but we can't shelter them forever.

"The legitimate issues, which I do think are really legitimate like litter, waste, noise, the impact on the street, my view was that they could be mitigated in terms of providing rubbish bags, toilets."

Campers could be trusted to look after the environment, she said.

"If you provide rubbish tins down Courteney Place, even drunk people will put their bottles in there. People are generally considerate. I do think the Happy Valley site does have some merits, again, because I think your community's a good one."

Cities such as New York, Paris and London managed to have inner-city camping grounds and Wellington had that capability as well, she said

Ms Pannett said she was comfortable putting aside money for the proposal.

Council to explore other freedom camping options

The planned Happy Valley Park campground would see 33 sites for campervans, cars and tents to meet tourist demand - with a construction price tag of between $350,000 and $500,000.

Councillor Paul Ward backed worried residents

"We need to send a clear message to the people of Happy Valley and Owhiro Bay that we will not be making an amendment to the plan and the proposal on the table will not proceed.

"And, going back to the people aspect, I mean I have to say this residents' association is one of the most patient that I've met."

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown Photo: SUPPLIED / WCC

Another councillor, Helene Ritchie, warned the idea would never work.

"Before this hit the table, I endeavoured to advise that the Happy Valley camping site would never fly. But it appeared to me - and some people are not going to like what I'm going to say - that there were some councillors who were determined to ram it through.

"I really object to having to force things onto a community, and for them to have to waste significant time and energy in putting forward a case."

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she did not want to write-off the idea of a campground, but did agree it should not go ahead yet.

If a site is created it should be a managed site that campers pay for rather than being for freedom campers, she said.

The council will now explore other freedom camping options in the city.