26 Aug 2014

Court rains on freedom camping bylaw

9:53 am on 26 August 2014

A council taken to task over its camping laws has been forced to revoke parts of its bylaw after a High Court judge ruled they were illegal.

The Motor Caravan Association took the Thames Coromandel District Council to the High Court in April, arguing the rules dictating where people could camp were draconian and overly restrictive.

A freedom camper.

A freedom camper. Photo: PHOTO NZ

In its decision released yesterday, the High Court at Hamilton ordered the council to remove two clauses in its freedom camping bylaws which were being used to fine campers. One of the bylaws restricted the places motorhomes could park.

The association's lawyer, Mai Chen, said the bylaws were confusing but the ruling cleared them up.

"They were using a public places bylaw, they were using a parking control bylaw and, on top of that, they had also specifically passed a freedom camping bylaw," Ms Chen said.

"This just caused mass confusion and resulted in a situation where a lot of New Zealanders who were trying to freedom camp in that area said 'look, it doesn't look like we can freedom camp anywhere'."

Thames Coromandel District Council spokesperson Laurna White said freedom campers brought money to the area but could leave behind a huge mess.

But she said yesterday's ruling did not change where people could or could not park for the night.

"For our freedom camping bylaw, it doesn't affect it too much, because any freedom camping infringement, we have the Freedom Camping Act which we can use as a tool to infringe people."

Local Government New Zealand president (LGNZ) Lawrence Yule said he was yet to study the ruling but if it helped stop similar legal action in the future, it could only be a good thing.

"That will be helpful for other councils in the future who are, in fact, following the process to give them clarity around what they should and shouldn't do.

"So hopefully, in the future, the High Court-type challenges and judicial reviews, the grounds for those should be much minimised because the process has been followed properly."

Mr Yule said LGNZ had been working with the Motor Caravan Association on a set of guidelines for local councils devising their own camping rules.

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