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Thames-Coromandel freedom camping decision reserved as laws branded overkill 

April 30, 2014
Thames-Coromandel freedom camping decision reserved as laws branded overkill

Aaron Leamon reported in the Waikato Times on April 17 that: Thames-Coromandel District Council has batted off claims that its measures to control freedom camping on the peninsula are a "complete overkill" and infringe people's human rights.

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association (NZMCA) has sought a judicial review of three council bylaws which, they argue, unfairly restrict freedom camping in the district.

The association has 52,000 members and caravan enthusiasts turned out in force to listen to proceedings in the High Court in Hamilton.

Mai Chen, counsel for the NZMCA, said the cumulative effect of three council bylaws - the Freedom Camping Bylaw, the Public Places Bylaw and the Parking Control Bylaw - ran foul of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act by breaching "the right to freedom of movement".

In reply, Thames-Coromandel District Council lawyer, Pardraig McNamara, said the council had to have regard to the views of all its communities, not just the interests of freedom campers.

In relation to the Freedom Camping Bylaw, the council had to strike a balance between the interests of freedom campers as well as protect the rights of all people to access local authority areas and safeguard their health and safety.

There is no single right answer as to where the balance lies, McNamara said.

The Freedom Camping Bylaw did not prevent travellers from pulling over and having a sleep on the side of the road when tired, he said.

Justice Cooper asked if the definition of freedom camping, as expressed in the bylaw, necessarily involved the idea of an overnight stay.

That's a good question isn't it, and that's not explicit, McNamara replied.

The NZMCA focused on the inter-relationship between the three bylaws and their combined affect but the council believed the Freedom Camping Bylaw over-rode the relevant provisions of the other two bylaws, he said.

The other two bylaws could technically remain on the council books but would be unenforceable.

Here we're in a somewhat unique situation . . . that we have essentially three bylaws covering much the same territory, he said. This situation where I'm asking the court to entertain the possibility of some kind of statement . . . that council shouldn't enforce the two [bylaw] clauses.

The judge, however, said he did not like the idea of councils picking and choosing what laws to enforce.

The trouble is this is heresy as far as I'm concerned. I don't believe that there should be a law which exists but which a local authority says it's not going to enforce. Where does my power come from to tell a council not to enforce its law? the judge asked.

Single file please on route to Thames and the Coromandel
Single file please on route to Thames and the Coromandel

McNamara said if the court was concerned by the cumulative affect of the three bylaws, the solution was to remove the offending provisions in the Public Places Bylaw and the Parking Control Bylaw, and leave the Freedom Camping Bylaw intact.

Chen for NZMCA said despite council assertions, campers were still receiving infringement notices despite not having breached any provisions in the Freedom Camping Bylaw.

If the council was left to itself, there would continue to be complete overkill regarding freedom camping restrictions on the peninsula, she said.

Justice Mark Cooper reserved his decision.

Waikato Times April 16

Thames-Coromandel District Council camping notices said to be illegal

Chris Gardener reported in the Waikato Times on April 16 that:

Thames-Coromandel District Council is being accused of acting illegally in issuing hundreds of infringement notices and warnings to freedom campers on the Coromandel Peninsula.

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association made the accusation at a judicial review in the High Court, Hamilton, on April 15 and 16 in which it raised concerns about a trio of bylaws restricting areas freedom campers could use.

Mai Chen, counsel for the association of 52,000 members, told Justice Mark Cooper the association was concerned about the continued enforcement of the illegal or invalid provisions in the bylaws as council has issued 135 infringement notices and 99 warnings under the Freedom Camping Bylaw for freedom camping where not permitted, in areas which are outside the prohibited areas.

Kea motorhome. All the  mod-cons
Kea motorhome. All the mod-cons

The high number of infringement notices and warnings . . . appears to evidence the council enforcing the broader prohibition in the Public Places Bylaw, despite their assertion to the contrary. Scores of members were at the hearing.

Chen said the council had breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act with the bylaws. The cumulative effect of the Freedom Camping Bylaw, Public Places Bylaw and Parking Control Bylaw is a breach of the right to freedom of movement affirmed in section 18 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Acts 1990, Chen said. The right to freedom of movement is a fundamental civil and political right that is engaged under the Freedom Camping Act, which regulates a person's right to move on to or from certain land as well as the ability of a person to remain at a place . . .

Freedom camping has been described as an important part of the tourism industry and great Kiwi lifestyle'. Chen said the council had admitted changes to the Freedom Camping Bylaw listing 10 areas where freedom camping was allowed on the peninsula and 30 where it was banned were invalid since the council had failed to follow the special consultative procedure when amending the bylaw.

The Freedom Camping Bylaw as enacted in December 2011 is illegal. All of the amendments to the Freedom Camping Bylaw made in March, 2013, are invalid . . . The council claims that since the Freedom Camping Bylaw was adopted it has treated the Public Places Bylaw and Parking Control Bylaw as being revoked.

Chen said she had heard from the council's lawyer, Pardraig McNamara, at 4.59pm on Monday, April 14that the council had already revoked the clauses of the public places and parking control bylaws.

Hamilton expo rallies NZMCA members.
Hamilton expo rallies NZMCA members.

But she asked Justice Cooper to quash those clauses anyway as well as the Freedom Camping Bylaw.

Chen asked for 12 locations added last March to the list of where freedom camping was not allowed, to be removed.

They are: Thornton Bay, Te Puru Urban Area, Tapu Urban Area, Te Mata Urban Area, Waikawau, Rings Beach, Te Kouma, Tararu Urban Area, Ngarimu Bay, Blackjack Rd, Sailors Grave Reserve and Little Waikawau Reserve.

The council's intentions and legal concessions are not the law and are also not reflected on the council's website, which clearly states freedom camping is only allowed in Schedule B areas district wide.

Two clauses in bylaws impacting freedom camping on the Coromandel Peninsula were revoked at the 11th hour, on 15.04.2014 ahead of a High Court hearing in Hamilton.

NZMCA chief executive Bruce Lochore told the Waikato Times that the association considered the TCDC freedom camping bylaw illegal.

TCDC's current bylaw allows freedom camping in a self-contained vehicle on any council-controlled public land - except in areas where the council specifically prohibitsfreedom camping.

Freedom campers cannot stay longer than one night and non-self-contained freedom campers are advised to stay in commercial campgrounds, holiday parks and Department of Conservation campgrounds

Motorhome  gather at Tauranga Bay
Motorhome gather at Tauranga Bay

Mai Chen, counsel for the association, told Justice Mark Cooper she heard from the council's lawyer at 4.59pm on Monday April 15 that the council's Public Places Bylaw and Parking Control Bylaw had been been revoked.

Chen asked Justice Cooper to make an order to ensure they remained revoked.

The Freedom Camping Bylaw, which says where freedom campers can and can't camp, remains.

Chen described the council's stance as a breach of the right of freedom of movement under the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

Justice Cooper said: I can quash a bylaw but has made no order as yet.

The hearing, was attended by scores of NZMCA members.

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