Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 26 November 2015

Democracy at work

"Thanks for listening. Democracy at work!" I would like to think that this comment, which was posted on the Far North District Council's Facebook page on Monday, is how most Far North residents will view the Council's decision to designate eight Council-owned sites across the District as freedom camping sites. The Council invited communities in October to provide feedback on a proposal to designate 16 Council-owned sites as places where people with self-contained camper vans could camp overnight. A previous Council had designated four reserves in the District as freedom camping sites in 2011. However, we were forced to close one of these in July and deemed the other three - all in the Kaitaia area - to be unsuitable for overnight camping. We wanted to offer visitors to the District more choices, so decided to propose new sites where overnight camping could take place.

Staff prepared a list of 35 Council sites after drawing up a list of criteria that included site access, ground conditions, water resources and distance to commercial campgrounds and public toilets. Community Boards then reduced this list to 16 sites which became the subject of a community consultation exercise. Not surprisingly, there was strong public interest in the sites, with 179 people making submissions. Some submitters were in favour of the Council creating more approved freedom camping areas, saying this would encourage more people to visit the Far North. Others were strongly opposed to freedom camping anywhere, while many opposed freedom camping in their neighbourhood. Submitters were concerned about having to share reserves with freedom campers, the safety of freedom campers at some sites, the loss of business to nearby commercial campgrounds and health and environmental risks caused by freedom campers leaving human waste and rubbish.

The majority of submitters were opposed to overnight camping at Henderson Bay, Cable Bay, Te Ngaere Bay and Omapere. Councillors listened to the views of these submitters and chose not to designate these reserves as freedom camping sites. On the other hand, most submitters were in favour of overnight camping at nine reserves in Kaitaia, Mangonui, Broadwood, Kaikohe, Ohaeawai, Okaihau and Kawakawa. Council listened to these submitters as well and chose to designate seven of these reserves as freedom camping sites.

Council decided not to include Broadwood Reserve in the list of approved freedom camping sites because it would only provide three parking spaces at best and there was already provision for freedom campers at another site in Broadwood. Submitters were more evenly divided over whether to designate a former landfill at Totara North as a freedom camping site, with those opposed outnumbering those in favour by one submission. Councillors decided to include the site in the list of approved areas, because it met many of the criteria for a suitable site and to ensure there would be at least two freedom camping sites in the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Ward. I would like to thank members of the community who took part in this consultation exercise.

I hope it is clear that the people you elected to represent you listened to your concerns and that the outcome was fair and democratic.


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