District councillor Craig Watson writes on freedom camping.
Freedom camping may be a new term used heavily by main stream media, but its concept is not new.
Grandad has been taking his grandkids camping for overnight fishing trips at Lake Coleridge for years, boys have gone camping with mates as a rite of passage since forever and families have camped on the sides of lakes or rivers for all summers passed.
When I have raised this in forums lately I have had Trump-like responses going something along the lines of “yes but kiwis are more responsible than overseas campers” or “I know I am responsible but these overseas people are not”. I think if you talk to the likes of Sally Quickfall, the Tasman District Council enforcement officer who has been verbally abused and spat on by Kiwis at freedom camping hotspots, she would disagree with such sentiments.
The unintended consequences (at least I hope they were), by councils all around the country blanket banning ‘freedom campers’ has meant those wonderful pastimes mentioned above have become unsavory or illegal and that is pretty sad. But in reality, an immigration based ‘Kiwis only’ policy would be even worse.
Please don’t think I am against doing something to improve the situation in our towns and rural areas, I am supportive of meaningful and sensible solutions. It is disgusting that a camper defecates on a public building or uses a private camping ground’s facilities for free by sneaking in.
A recent study reported by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment showed that international freedom campers spent on average $6961 per trip in 2015, compared to backpackers who spent on average $4808 per trip. An international visitor who does neither of the above only spent on average $3212, less than half that of a freedom camper. Overall it is estimated that international freedom campers spent $304,000,000 in 2015.
Whilst acknowledging they probably stayed longer than your average tourist it is important to note that they are significant contributors to our economy.
I hope, that when councils consider what to do, we all look past the emotions, rhetoric and headline grabbing stories and concentrate on sensible solutions that benefit our environment, our pastimes and our economy.