Funding welcomed as freedom camping fines soar

Wanaka welcome sign - May 2015. Photo: Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun

The number of freedom camping fines issued over the last six months in Wanaka, Hawea, Luggate and Albert Town is almost double the number issued in the 12 months previously.

Figures released to The Wanaka Sun by Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) indicate that enforcement officers issued 893 freedom camping infringements from November 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017 compared to the 479 issued between October 25, 2015 and October 25, 2016.

QLDC web and digital communications advisor Jimmy Sygrove said that the rate of payment across the district for freedom camping infringements was just over 50 percent.

The figures come as Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult welcomes a $178 million package for tourism infrastructure, including a $102 million tourism infrastructure fund, announced by tourism minister Paula Bennett last week.

Minister Bennett said that the fund will provide $100 million over the next four years in partnership with local councils and other community organisations, for projects like new carparks, toilets and freedom camping facilities.

Mayor Boult said that it was rewarding to see that the government had listened and responded swiftly to concerns voiced by QLDC.

“We recognise the importance of the tourism sector to the economy but the burden of visitor cost cannot be borne by local communities alone,” Mayor Boult said.

“As recently as last month this council outlined to the minister the extreme pressure that desirable visitor locations such as the Queenstown Lakes District are under to deliver quality visitor amenities and the need for a more comprehensive freedom camping strategy in regards to the provision of infrastructure like toilets and parking.”

Having met with the minister, Mayor Boult followed up with a letter calling on a nationally consistent approach to the growing fleet of freedom campers and for the government to work together with local government to take a more proactive and consistent management approach.

News of the fund comes as visitor growth predictions for Wanaka presented at the Shaping Our Future transport forum last week were expected to top 54,000 by 2053.

Deputy mayor Calum MacLeod echoed these growth projections at the Saving Our Alpine Lakes public meeting earlier this year, stating that if QLDC were to stop granting resource consents immediately, the town was still predicted to double in size.

Freedom camping has been an ongoing and growing problem in the district, with QLDC’s communications manager Michele Poole telling the Wanaka Sun last month that a contractor carried out early morning patrols around Wanaka every day.

Although QLDC was still to learn the detail around how the tourism infrastructure fund will be administered, Mayor Boult said he was hugely encouraged by the announcement.

“I agree entirely with the minister that investing in the experience of our tourists will take a strong partnership approach and our council has committed to be party to a more cohesive local body response,” Mayor Boult said.

The additional investment of $72 million in the DOC estate was also welcomed. “Again this is a district where tracks are coming under increasing pressure and the potential to create new experiences and trails are high. It’s great news,” Mayor Boult said.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said she was delighted that southern councils and their communities had been heard when it came to tourism infrastructure needs and she said she was ready to support them with their applications.

“The $102 million for tourism infrastructure will go a long way towards relieving the pressure Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes have been experiencing with the tourism boom. Now we can start working towards establishing the public toilets, carparks, freedom camping and rubbish disposal facilities that we badly need.”

Cover image: Wanaka welcome sign - May 2015. Photo: Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun


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