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The Press – News column Mar 17

Feckless Freedom Campers

After three and half years of denial, delusion and dereliction,  the Christchurch City Council has finally agreed to craft a freedom camping bylaw.  Despite the government empowering  local councils with the legislative tools to regulate and enforce freedom camping since December 2011, our council opted to sit on its chuff, complicit and complacent, as the free-for-all fecklessness of self-entitled spongers has festered.  But as the council gears up to draft a dedicated bylaw, already the warning signs are clear that some councillors are angling for a marshmallow bylaw, a mealy-mouthed cop-out,  or measures that will appease the working holiday Euro trash who commandeered the Beresford St carpark, before migrating to Waimairi beach. In January, at the height of the Camp Beresford debacle, Cr David East revealed to me that he wants the ratepayer to bankroll the reinstatement of Rawhiti Domain as a fully equipped, freebee campground.  He still supports that view, even though it would undermine the nearby South Brighton Holiday Park, which happens to be council-owned.  With nightly accommodation starting from just $20, this of course is precisely where these long-stay vagrants should be directed. Last week The Press reported city council staff also advocating for the city to cater to the needs of freedom campers, by allocating them some parks and reserves in the red zone, with the added provision of some on-site facilities.  (This is strongly reminiscent of that equally ludicrous proposal hatched 12 months ago, and thankfully aborted, to provide street prostitutes with a slate of publicly-funded al fresco amenities. ) Cr East and council staff also claim that enforcing a freedom camping bylaw could be problematic.  Seriously?  From the city famous for its oh so zealous, omni-present parking wardens?  What’s so problematic about unleashing a particularly battle-hardened platoon of these wardens on the foreign freeloaders?  Christchurch should simply replicate the sensibly weighted bylaw that Queenstown Lakes District Council vigorously enforces, across a territorial area vastly bigger than our city council’s.  If your vehicle isn’t fully self-contained, freedom camping on public land is banned outright. ( just as it is in Europe.) You must use campgrounds and holiday parks. Certified self-contained vehicles can use designated public areas, for two nights maximum.  In 2014, the Lakes District issued over 2600 feckless campers with $200 infringement fines. Some violators have failed to cough up, because rental companies are reluctant to charge tourists’ credit cards for council fines – despite leasing them the offending vehicle. If rental firms won’t act in the civic interest voluntarily, parliament should amend the law, to compel them to play ball.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, first published in The Press newspaper. March 17.

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