Ten years of frustrations have today led to the NZMCA initiating High Court action over the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s prohibitive Freedom Camping bylaw.
Over the past decade - since the Government enacted the Freedom Camping Act 2011 – the Association has sought on numerous occasions to work with the council on the issue, with little response beyond delays and further obfuscation.
Ironically, today’s legal action to enable more responsible motorhomers to freedom camp in the area comes at a time when Queenstown is crying out for more domestic tourists.
However, NZMCA CEO Bruce Lochore says many Association members feel completely shut out of the Queenstown-Lakes District because of the Council’s prohibitive bylaw.
“Our members are also concerned the Council’s 2019 bylaw will set another dangerous precedent for more local authorities to follow and expect the NZMCA to stand up for their rights to freedom camp responsibly throughout New Zealand.”
Mr Lochore said he was very conscious that bringing an application for Judicial Review may be seen by some as a heavy-handed tactic.
“I accept that the timing of this review is unfortunate; however we signalled our intent to seek a judicial review immediately after the Council adopted this bylaw in November 2019.
“We delayed initiating these proceedings in 2020 for the Council’s benefit while they focused on managing the effects of Covid-19.
“I was also in contact with the Mayor of QLDC during 2020 - extending our support and willingness to find an amicable solution to avoid a judicial review. Unfortunately, we were unable to achieve that.”
Mr Lochore said the council had consistently shown ‘absolute contempt for proper process, resulting in a prohibitive bylaw that undermines their inter-agency responsible camping strategy and the Freedom Camping Act 2011’.
“The Act required Queenstown to undertake a full review of their bylaw and the council also committed to undertaking district-wide site-by-site assessments as part of their strategy,” he said.
“The council clearly hasn’t done that, they’ve simply rolled over their existing bylaw and made it more prohibitive, without considering the impact on the vast majority of responsible campers.
“And on top of that there’s absolutely no proportionality (as the Act requires) in a bylaw which effectively prohibits freedom camping throughout the district.
“The NZMCA has consistently raised its concerns with the Council since the establishment of the Act that statutory rights to freedom camp in the Queenstown Lakes District have been improperly infringed.
“We have invested heavily in working with the Council in assisting them to better manage freedom camping, but without success; the options for investment, gentle persuasion, and advocacy have run out.
“Our Association’s firm view is that until the latest bylaw is tested against the requirements of the Act by an independent body such as the High Court, then our engagement efforts will continue to be rebuffed.”
Mr Lochore concluded by stressing the NZMCA takes its role as a responsible freedom camping advocate seriously.
“Our members want the NZMCA to proceed with this Judicial Review as a final stand to protect their rights, and the rights of their children and grandchildren, to enjoy the freedom of being able to freedom camp without undue restrictions across the Queenstown Lakes District and indeed throughout New Zealand.”