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Number of nights increased for freedom campers, in proposed bylaw

Waikato District Council is asking for feedback on its proposed Freedom Camping Bylaw.

There have been recent changes to the Freedom Camp Act 2011, which are reflected in the Proposed Bylaw. 

The Self-contained Motor Vehicles Legislation Act 2023 came into force on 6 June 2023, and this means there are some nation-wide changes to where freedom camping is allowed, the definition of a self-contained vehicle, and changes to infringement fees and fines. Under the Act, freedom camping on local authority land is only allowed in self-contained vehicles.

Waikato District Council Customer Support General Manager, Sue O’Gorman, says the Proposed Bylaw gives people the right to freedom camp in our district, while also protecting the environmental, social, cultural and economic values of our communities. 

“We’ve got some amazing towns and beaches in the Waikato District and we want people to be able to visit and see them. However, we must balance this with the need to protect Waikato District’s unique environment.”

While most freedom campers don’t cause any problems, every year Council receives complaints about issues associated with freedom campers and freedom camping areas. Most of the complaints are about littering, overstaying, noise, alcohol consumption, unsightly structures and laundry.

“We know our communities have a lot of interest in freedom camping, particularly in the areas of Raglan, Ngaaruawaahia and Port Waikato, and we encourage people to have their say.”

Council carried out early engagement with the public between 14 September 2022 and 19 February 2023 to get general feedback on the current 2016 bylaw. 

“Their views were taken into consideration by staff, when developing the Proposed Bylaw,” says O’Gorman. “However, it’s important to note that under the Act, councils can only use a bylaw to prohibit or restrict freedom camping in an area if it meets certain criteria.”

The Act states that councils can only prohibit or restrict freedom camping in an area if it is necessary to:

  1. protect areas that are environmentally sensitive/culturally sensitive.
  2. protect health and safety to keep freedom campers and other visitors to an area safe.
  3. protect access to the area where the presence of freedom campers would block access or could damage infrastructure. 

While the Freedom Camping Act 2011 is the main instrument used by Council to enforce rules for freedom camping, the Reserves Act 1977 provides additional regulation on reserve land. Under the Reserves Act 1977, freedom camping is prohibited on Council reserves unless the area has been identified in a reserve management plan as being suitable for camping. 

The key changes in the proposed Freedom Camping Bylaw are: 

  • Increasing the maximum number of nights a person can freedom camp in a particular area to five nights. It is currently three. 
  • People must move at least 500m away, once they have stayed in an area for the maximum number of nights.

There are also changes proposed to specific areas in the district. They are:

  • Te Huinga o Ngaa Wai (The Point), Ngaaruawaahia: extending the prohibited area to include the squash club.
  • Sunset Beach, Port Waikato: extending the prohibited area to include entire car park.
  • Raglan CBD: excluding Stewart Street from the prohibited area and making it a restricted area with time limits (between 5pm and 8am). 
  • Wainui Road, Raglan: prohibiting freedom camping near the water treatment ponds and near Wainui Reserve Bush Park.
  • Te Kauwhata Domain, Mahi Road: reducing the area where vehicles that are not self-contained can freedom camp, to limit freedom camping to one end of the car park.

    More information and how to have your say can be found here: 

    Consultation opens today and will close on 14 August.