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Queenstown Freedom Camping Bylaw 2019 to be legally challenged

Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Freedom Camping Bylaw 2019 is being challenged by the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Incorporated through a judicial review process.

QLDC Chief Executive Mike Theelen confirmed a statement of claim was received on March 23, 2021.

"NZMCA’s legal challenge is based on a number of claims, mostly relating to the process the Council followed in making the Bylaw and the matters the Council took into account in making its decision.

"NZMCA also suggests that the Bylaw is in conflict with the Freedom Camping Act 2011," he says.

The Council is now taking legal advice and anticipates defending the proceedings, alongside its planned comprehensive review of Freedom Camping, and continuation of other tools used to manage camping in the area.

"A new Freedom Camping Bylaw was adopted in December 2019 following a full special consultative procedure, a formal process the NZMCA participated in. At the time, a decision was also taken to complete a review of the Freedom Camping Bylaw 2019 within 18-24 months of adoption of the Bylaw.

"Department of Conservation, Land Information NZ and Waka Kotahi NZTA also have sites across the district that are available to campers and a collaborative effort by a range of agencies has been the focus to ensure a comprehensive response to camping demand. This was achieved through the development of a Responsible Camping Strategy," Mike says.

"While the next bylaw review is earmarked for 2022, Council is already underway with a full review of freedom camping locations which commenced in February this year."

Mike says freedom camping has long been a topic of conversation and at times contention in the Queenstown Lakes District and across Aotearoa New Zealand, and that the Bylaw is only one of tools in the local toolbox to manage the activity.

"Our district has long been a mecca for freedom campers of all shapes and sizes and the bylaw review in 2019 sought to balance the needs and expectations of campers and our local communities whose locations often bore the brunt of overuse and at times very anti-social behavior by some.

"Considerable funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment over three consecutive years provided us with an opportunity to try out some new ways to encourage more responsible camping in the district.

"The initial MBIE funding in 2018 allowed us to trial a number of initiatives which were refined in 2019 and again in 2020 following lower visitor numbers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This included overnight camping hubs, day service hubs, camping ambassadors and a significant increase in education and enforcement across the district resulting in fewer complaints from locals and excellent feedback from visiting campers," he says.

"Part of our trials have included looking at ways to better connect with freedom campers and over this summer period we have been encouraging them to support our local businesses who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lower visitor numbers, by utilizing local campgrounds as part of their travels."

QLDC is committed to working with the NZMCA to achieve an amenable outcome and will provide a further update on the freedom camping location review in the near future.

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