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Proactive push to allow summer camping at Pouawa and Turihaua

Thursday 7  September 2023

Conversations are underway between Gisborne District Council and Waka Kotahi to allow camping at 2 favourite spots this summer season.

Historically Council has managed summer camping at Pouawa and Turihaua, 2 coastal areas that sit alongside State Highway 35, under the Freedom Camping Bylaw.

However, legislation changes in June to the Freedom Camping Act made Council’s Freedom Camping bylaw inconsistent, which means Council has no power of enforcement over these areas.

Liveable spaces director Michele Frey says, in a nutshell these amendments include the tightening of the definition of self-contained vehicles in our bylaw – only campervans with chemical toilets - and limitations on Council to manage land that belongs to Waka Kotahi unless these areas are made a Local Authority.

Ms Frey says it’s still up to Waka Kotahi to decide whether they want to allow seasonal camping in these areas.

“Through our conversations, we know Waka Kotahi is motivated to get an outcome for this season and is aware of the situation.

“Included in these conversations are other issues including how the environment is impacted by seasonal camping activities, and that some areas are becoming increasingly dangerous to camp on with the coastal erosion and proximity to the State Highway.”

Ms Frey says it’s a unique situation and we are the first council to take these issues to Waka Kotahi after the legislative changes.

This morning’s Sustainable Tairāwhiti meeting voted by majority to amend the bylaw to be consistent with the Act, and also added a recommendation to direct Chief Executive Nedine Thatcher Swann to request permission from Waka Kotahi to declare these areas of Waka Kotahi land as a local authority area so it can be included in Council’s Freedom Camping Bylaw.

“Both parties are being proactive, we’ve also advocated for Waka Kotahi to have a conversation with local iwi Ngati Oneone to see how they want to approach this situation.

“As it stands now, this land cannot be part of our bylaw with the amendments that have been made. So in order for our bylaw to be enforceable we must align it with the amended Freedom Camping Act 2023.

“Also, because this land isn’t Council land, we need to be guided by Waka Kotahi with the direction of community engagement they want to take.

“As a Council, we’re also aware that the conversations between Waka Kotahi and Ngati Oneone may not have a spot for Council to join in.”

Ms Frey says that the onset of daylight savings in a couple of weeks heralds the start of people wanting to start camping.

“We do need our community to know soon where it is safe to camp, and that those areas that will be serviced by Council so that it is a safe and enjoyable summer for everyone.

“We hope to tidy up these formalities this year so that it is clear for everyone going forward.”

Ms Frey says for this season, Council does have the potential to administer the sites through other legislation – namely the traffic bylaw or the litter act.

“However, ultimately this decision sits with Waka Kotahi. This is not a choice we have made but a situation that has happened to us because of the change in legislation in June.”

Ms Frey says a report will now be presented to the Council meeting next month (October), which will bring more certainty for our community.