Councils across the country have been under pressure to deal with the burgeoning numbers of freedom campers over the past few years. The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) is proposing new regulations with particular emphasis to onboard toilet facilities, and where non-certified self-contained vehicles may camp. Taituarā encourages councils to read the proposed changes and submit on this proposal which will affect council employees and the communities they serve.

Many New Zealanders enjoy being able to travel around Aotearoa enjoying the beauty and diverse activities that our country has to offer. With our own growing population, as well as the rapidly increasing numbers of international tourists we have seen over previous years, freedom camping has increasingly come under fire for what many consider to be the direct transfer of costs from freedom campers themselves to the local communities that host them. Others also see the costs of irresponsible freedom camping as being borne by the environment itself. Certainly many Kiwis will be familiar with stories of popular freedom camping spots heavily degraded by litter and campers defacating in bushes nearby, with questionable benefit for local communities. 

Local authorities are able to issue infringement fines, however, the regulations set by the government have not been sufficient for some councils to control behaviour. Those councils with high numbers of visitors have more environmental impacts than others and remedies will need to be sufficient for high impact areas. However, there are benefits that flow into communities from the tourist industry which need to be considered when reviewing the regulation. Controls will need to balance the benefits with keeping our environment clean. Conversely, some councils have found their existing enforcement regimes are working well, and they are encouraging more freedom campers into their areas. 

In December 2019, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report ‘Pristine, popular… imperilled? The environmental consequences of projected tourism growth’. The global COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reduced tourism intensity right across New Zealand, and so too the environmental effects. With the staged opening of our borders to the rest of the world finally on the cards, in February 2021 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment published another report ‘Not 100% - but four steps closer to sustainable tourism’. This was a development of the first report, and formulated four specific proposals which it advised should be implemented quickly, so as to be ready for when our borders re-open. The fourth proposal of these was “Strengthen the existing standard for self-contained freedom camping, improve oversight of the certifying process and require rental car agencies to play a greater role in collecting freedom camping infringement fees and fines.”

MBIE has responded to this report quickly, and has just released its own proposal to improve the situation for local residents and ratepayers, as well as to protect our public spaces from being degraded by the effects of irresponsible freedom camping. The proposed changes will likely have quite wide-ranging implications. For example, those not in self-contained vehicles will in future be required to stay in locations where they can access proper toileting facilities such as commercial campgrounds. This is likely to benefit such businesses. An interesting feature of the proposed legislation is that this will not affect freedom camping on the Department of Conservation estate, which currently offers hundreds of free or low-cost freedom camping sites.

The diagram below summarises the three, or four, potential parts that comprise the proposal.

As part of the consultation process there will be public meetings held across the country, as well as webinars to ensure as many people can engage with the proposal as possible.

You can read a recent RNZ article on this consultation and its aims ‘Freedom camping: Tougher rules and penalties proposed’ and access the consultation documents on the MBIE website. Submissions are due Sunday 16 May 2021.

If you have questions about this please contact Susan Haniel, Senior Advisor, Sector Improvement.