Freedom camping enforcement under fire

'Self-contained car' in Wanaka. Photo: Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun

People movers and small vehicles adding to Wanaka’s freedom camping woes will be allowed to stay as self-contained certified vehicles for up to two years.

The New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Inc. (NZMCA) announced in February that it was implementing a temporary stay on the certification of people movers and similar small car conversions as self-contained while it reviewed several issues relating to New Zealand’s Self-Containment Standard.

No new vehicles will be granted with the certification but vehicles already classed as self-contained will be allowed to remain certified.

Among the issues up for review was the varying interpretations of toilet requirements by testing officers, meaning that certain vehicle types had continued to be certified when they did not comply with the purpose and intent of the Standard.

Wanaka resident Jim Ledgerwood told the Wanaka Sun that he spotted freedom campers along the lake in smaller vehicles with self-containment verification stickers most mornings.

“It is disturbing that many of those [vehicles], some as small as traditional station wagons, have folks sleeping in them and the blue stickers suggesting that they are self contained vehicles with facilities onboard. There is obviously no room for a toilet, let alone a shower,” Jim said.

NZMCA’s national policy and planning manager James Imlach said that the blue sticker did not absolutely verify whether or not a vehicle was self-contained under the NZ Standard and was merely a tool to assist enforcement officers.

“Whenever an enforcement officer doubts the veracity of the blue sticker they should check the vehicle’s self-containment warrant displayed on the front windscreen and, if necessary, ask to inspect the self-containment certificate that must be kept inside the vehicle at all times,” James said.

James said that the fact that non-self-contained vehicles were displaying the stickers on Wanaka’s lakefront meant that Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) enforcement officers may not be relying on the right documents for verification.

“This suggests there is scope for further education on the Standard. The tools are available to all councils like QLDC, perhaps they just need to be better utilised in some instances,” James said.

QLDC communications and engagement manager Naell Crosby-Roe said that enforcement officers did not rely on the blue self-contained stickers, rather referring to a warrant-like endorsement in the windscreen which meant that the vehicle had been assessed as self-contained by a registered body such as the NZMCA or a plumber.

“Legally, enforcement officers do have the authority to seize vehicles, but council’s preferred approach at this time is to focus on education and, where appropriate, seizing the self-contained warrant. However, the council does believe the requirements for this endorsement are still lower than should be required. A minimum standard should apply to all vehicles to be classed as self-contained,” Naell said.

James said that the NZMCA had been communicating with QLDC and Mayor Jim Boult about the council’s concerns regarding vehicles travelling with portable toilets.

QLDC’s desire to see a higher Standard which only permits vehicles with permanently fixed toilets in private rooms was problematic, James said.

“There was no appetite from within the rental industry, central and local government to support QLDC’s preferred approach. There are thousands of legitimate camping vehicles with portable toilets. The families that own them would be unfairly disadvantaged by higher regulations designed to target a few hundred cars,” he said.

Naell said that it was possible for the council to review its freedom camping bylaw as suggested by the NZMCA but that the issue with a number of people camping irresponsibly was a national one.

“Therefore the council is actively working at a national level to address these issues rather than creating a system that creates different rules for the Queenstown Lakes District in isolation of a national approach,” Naell said.

'Self-contained car' in Wanaka.  Photo: Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun

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