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NZ Motor Caravan Association Challenges Strict Freedom Camping Bylaw

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) is challenging the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s freedom camping bylaw in the High Court, arguing that the regulations are overly restrictive and legally flawed. 

Representing over 116,000 members, the NZMCA has asked the court to nullify the bylaw, which they claim unfairly limits camping opportunities in one of New Zealand’s premier tourist regions.

The NZMCA, the largest motor caravanning group in New Zealand, took its case to the High Court in Invercargill, contending that the bylaw, enacted after a 2021 public consultation, is excessively prohibitive. 

The bylaw restricts freedom camping to a single site in Luggate, limits stays to two consecutive nights, and mandates the use of self-contained vehicles, according to a report by Otago Daily Times.

NZMCA Counsel Phil Page argued that the council made legal errors by considering impacts on neighboring properties, such as noise and litter, which are irrelevant under the law.

The council had commissioned a consultant’s report to assess 105 potential camping sites, evaluating factors like noise, litter, views, privacy, and property values. Initially, nine sites were recommended, but this was reduced to five in the proposed bylaw after adding new criteria. 

The final bylaw, however, permits freedom camping at only one site, effectively banning it in urban Queenstown and Wanaka.

Page criticized the council’s approach, stating, “It’s difficult to see how a council of the most popular tourist region in the country, acting reasonably, could be satisfied that providing only one identified freedom camping site is the most appropriate and proportionate way of addressing concerns about freedom camping.” 

He emphasized that there are many suitable sites within the district that could accommodate responsible freedom camping.

In response, council legal counsel Shane Campbell defended the bylaw, asserting that the process was “robust” and complied with the Freedom Camping Act and the Local Government Act. 

Campbell noted that the consultant’s report was just one piece of evidence considered and that the restrictive approach reflects public sentiment towards freedom camping. He stated that the council had to balance these views with the expectations of the NZMCA.

The NZMCA’s challenge highlights the ongoing debate over freedom camping in New Zealand, particularly in popular tourist destinations where local communities and visitors often have differing perspectives on the practice. 

The council’s restrictive measures have sparked concerns among caravanners who seek more freedom and flexibility in their travel experiences.

Justice Robert Osborne has reserved his decision, leaving the future of the bylaw—and the balance between community concerns and the freedom of campers—in the hands of the court. 

The outcome of this case could have significant implications for freedom camping policies across New Zealand, influencing how councils nationwide address this contentious issue.

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Hi, you might find this article from Modern Campground interesting: NZ Motor Caravan Association Challenges Strict Freedom Camping Bylaw! This is the link: https://moderncampground.com/australia/new-zealand/nz-motor-caravan-association-challenges-strict-freedom-camping-bylaw/