Tighter rules proposed for freedom camping

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has released a discussion document outlining a package of proposals aimed at improving the behaviour of freedom campers and decreasing the pressures freedom campers put on the environment and local communities.  The discussion document recognises that increasing numbers of freedom campers have resulted in increasing opposition to freedom camping in communities around New Zealand.

Four proposals

The discussion document outlines four proposals to strengthen the regime for freedom camping in New Zealand.  Each of the four options could stand on its own or form the basis for a combined package of reform.  MBIE is asking for public submissions on each of the four proposals with submissions closing Sunday 16 May 2021.  MBIE wishes to have a new regime in place by 1 January 2022.

The first two proposals are alternatives:

1. The first proposal would limit all vehicle-based freedom camping to certified self-contained vehicles. This proposal aims to combat the inappropriate disposal of human waste.  The requirements for self-contained vehicles would be set out in regulations detailed in proposal three.  People would still be able to sleep in vehicles which are not certified self-contained in places not covered by the Freedom Camping Act 2011 (for example, in commercial and conservation campgrounds and on private land) and freedom camping in tents would be unaffected.

2. The second proposal would make it mandatory for all freedom campers to either stay in a vehicle that is certified self-contained or stay at a site with toilet facilities.  This proposal covers all styles of freedom camping (tenting included).  Exceptions would be made for public conservation lands and regional parks as campers in these areas are often without toilet facilities nearby.  In areas excluded by the proposal the Department of Conservation and regional councils have the power to issue notices or make bylaws to control freedom camping.

The other proposals are:

3. Proposal three aims to improve the regulatory tools for the Department of Conservation and local authorities. In practice, a stronger infringement scheme would be introduced which would specify higher fines than the standard $200 infringement fee, as well as making it easier for offending vehicles to be confiscated.  Proposal three would introduce a regulatory system for certified self-contained vehicles, which could recognise and license persons and organisations that conduct sanitary plumbing work on vehicles and establish a national database of certified self-contained vehicles.  Any regulatory agency established would run on a cost recovery basis.

4. Finally, proposal four is to strengthen the requirements for self-contained vehicles.  Currently standards for self-contained vehicles are voluntary, vehicles gain self-contained certification from an approved issuing authority after inspection from a registered plumber.  MBIE is asking for submissions about whether minimum requirements for self-contained certification should be strengthened (for example, by requiring toilets in self-contained vehicles to be permanently plumbed) and who should be able to grant such certification.

A copy of MBIE’s discussion document is available here.

Judicial review

Relevant to these proposals, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association has made an application for judicial review against the Queenstown Lakes District Council.  The application challenges the Council’s process for its Freedom Camping Bylaw 2019, which prohibits freedom camping in certain areas.  This is not the first challenge to a local authority’s bylaw, so it will be interesting to see the outcome and how it fits into the wider reform proposals.

If you would like any further information on the proposals or the submission making process please contact our Resource Management team.

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