Environmental / Resource Management

Freedom Interrupted

The Government hopes that the Freedom Camping Bill (Bill) introduced to Parliament on 18 May 2011 will make inroads in dealing with the growing problem of freedom campers.

The problem

Freedom campers are notorious in many tourist hotspots around New Zealand for their improper disposal of waste (including toilet waste) and their disregard for the philosophy of leaving a place as you find it. These actions cause offence to local residents, are a hindrance to local authorities and the Department of Conservation (DoC) and generally create public health and safety issues that threaten New Zealand's clean, green image.

The current framework

Currently local authorities and DoC are able to decide how best to deal with the detrimental effects freedom campers have on their local districts and conservation reserves. This has produced a haphazard approach leaving both international and domestic tourists bewildered as to what rules apply, and an increasing number of complaints from locals over irresponsible freedom camping in their district. Local authorities that already have freedom camping bylaws in place have been reluctant to prosecute because the low penalties have not justified the costs involved. This has resulted in freedom campers being given warnings that often go ignored, or freedom campers moving on to another district where different rules apply.

The new framework

The Bill sets out a national policy framework that will synchronise the powers of local authorities and DoC so that tourists can have a clearer understanding of the rules surrounding freedom camping and the penalties involved. The Bill applies to local authority-controlled land and DoC land.

The key tactic to facilitate a reduction in the adverse effects of freedom camping is to raise the fines involved and clarify to whom they apply. The Bill provides for a $200 infringement fee for illegal camping that may be imposed on the camper or the vehicle. It is expected new regulations will require campervan hire companies to record and disclose details of renters so that these instant fines can be enforced. This addresses the transient nature of freedom campers who often leave the country without paying fines.

In addition to infringement fees, a person successfully prosecuted for certain offences, including illegally discharging waste, can be given a fine of up to $10,000. It is hoped this increased penalty will justify court costs, prompting greater prosecution of freedom campers who leave their waste in some of New Zealand's most idyllic locations.

It will be up to local authorities and DoC to administer the enforcement of the legislation. The local authorities will retain the revenue from fines issued by enforcement officers in their jurisdiction, and revenue from offences on DoC reserves will be paid into the Crown Bank Account.

The Bill provides a coordinated approach to enforcement between local authorities and DoC where infringement notices on land within the other agency's control can be issued by each other's staff.

The Bill allows local authorities to make bylaws specifying the areas where camping is allowed, where it is restricted, and where it is prohibited outright. Similarly DoC may erect camping restriction and prohibition signs limiting camping within 200m, or make public freedom camping notices imposing restrictions or prohibitions over wider areas that are published in the Gazette and national newspapers.

Transitional provisions

Schedule 3 of the Bill lists freedom camping bylaws already passed by local authorities that if breached create an infringement offence under the Bill. The Bill also lists in Schedule 4 the existing freedom camping bylaws which if breached create an infringement offence once a resolution has been passed. It is important that those local authorities ensure such resolutions are passed so they can begin enforcing the Bill as soon as it is enacted. Local authorities will also need to publicly notify those resolutions.

These provisions apply for a transitional period of a year from the time the Bill is enacted to give temporary effect to current local authority camping-related bylaws under the infringement regime.

The future

It is expected nationally consistent signage and a website that identifies where tourists are allowed to camp will produce a greater familiarity, by tourists, of New Zealand's freedom camping policy.

The Government is looking to roll the legislation out before the Rugby World Cup. Local authorities should be aware of the legislation so that this national framework can be implemented before the furore of the Rugby World Cup hits our shores.

A due date for submissions on the Bill is yet to be specified.

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Public Sector, Environment & Resources

The contents of this publication are general in nature and are not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice on a specific matter. In the absence of such advice no responsibility is accepted by Brookfields for reliance on any of the information provided in this publication.

 

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