Marlborough Borough Council will spend up to $90,000 this summer policing freedom camping in Marlborough.
Management of Freedom Camping in Marlborough ran over budget last summer, prompting the council to allocate more funding for the upcoming season.
Marlborough District Council last year raised $70,000 in funding for a ranger for freedom camping after the Department for Business, Innovation and Employment withdrew previously promised funds.
Funding will be used to hire rangers to monitor and educate people who have used Marlborough’s five freedom campgrounds.
But Jane Tito, the city parks and open spaces manager, spoke to city councilors at a wealth and services meeting and asked for the budget to be increased to $90,000.
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Tito said they blew last season’s budget, so the increased funding would address this, inflation, wages and vehicle running costs.
A report prepared by Tito states that three contractors were employed during the last season, which lasted about four months.
Marlborough has five liberty campgrounds.
The report said there are plans for more visitors to come to the area in the coming season and that surveillance should be stepped up to meet community expectations.
Council staff felt the monitoring period and hours could remain the same as last year to accommodate demand. The rangers worked from December 1 to March 31 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
They would also continue to maintain an “educational focus” on the district’s freedom camping rules, which have worked well so far with “few complaints and low numbers of violations,” the report said.
Blenheim Councilor Michael Fitzpatrick questioned whether the $90,000 budget was still needed given the area’s inclement weather, which had closed several roads in the Marlborough Sounds.
“The Marlborough Sounds…as I see it [will] off the radar for the next year. So will that extra work be required?” said Fitzpatrick.
But Tito said while access to the sounds might not be possible, they had other areas they needed to monitor. And Kenepuru Sound was also damaged last summer and they’re still over budget.
Three rangers oversaw camping in the Marlborough area last summer.
Marlborough’s 2020 Freedom Camping Bylaws restricted freedom campers from 13 to five community-owned sites and regulated vehicles must be self-contained. Freedom camping was banned everywhere else in the region.
However, these statutes were challenged by the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association after the council closed eight of the council’s 13 sites and abandoned Blenheim’s Wynen Street car park; the Taylor River Dam; the Renwick Domain; Lake Elterwater Reserve (in Ward); and the Wairau bypass.
Tito said they expected a decision on a revised charter, which was reviewed in March this year, in time for the upcoming holiday season.
The 2022 draft charter called for retaining existing locations and increasing the capacity of the Renwick Domain from 10 vehicles per night to 20.
It also proposed opening three locations, at Blairich Reserve in the Awatere Valley, Opouri Rd in the Rai Valley, and Wash Bridge Recreation Reserve off State Highway 63.
It proposed allowing tents on the Blairich Reserve, specifically for cycle tourism.
Wairau-Awatere Councilwoman Cynthia Brooks, who made a proposal on the draft bylaw calling for an additional site, asked Tito at the meeting if rangers would monitor whether Freedom Camping’s vehicles were compliant.
Wairau-Awatere County Councilor Cynthia Brooks has called for a vacant campsite at Renwick Dog Park, saying it could help nearby wineries.
“We have to follow a clear line there,” Brooks said.
“Does the community believe in this compliance? People don’t sleep in cars in these places anymore.
“I hope that the rangers really take a clear line there. It must now reach an even higher threshold. I hope that happens, otherwise I will be disappointed.”
Tito said Rangers understood that and educated on compliance last season.
The committee voted to amend a recommendation in the report and agreed to fund up to $90,000 for the Freedom Camping Rangers this season. This was subject to full Council approval on September 22.