First the good news – the government is providing $8.5 million to better manage freedom camping.
. . .Recycling collection facilities, infrastructure and operating costs in Grey District will receive a $850,000 funding boost.
Westland District Council has been allocated about $780,000 for new camping facilities and to cover operating costs, education and enforcement.
Tasman District Council is set to receive $660,000 from the fund to improve tourism infrastructure in the lead up to summer.
Queenstown Lakes, Buller, Mackenzie and Waitaki district councils will receive more than $500,000 in the lead up to the tourism season, with Mackenzie and Waitaki receiving a joint payment. . .
Visitor numbers are well in excess of ratepayers’ ability to fund infrastructure for tourists. This money will be thinly spread in areas with great and urgent need but it is a good start.
But then there’s the bad news.
The working group set up to review freedom camping wants five more reviews.
One of the Government’s infamous 140 working groups has, incredibly come back with a recommendation to have five more reviews, National’s Tourism spokesperson Todd McClay says.
“Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis’s Responsible Camping Working Group has reported back not with a plan but with a recommendation the Government reviews the Freedom Camping Act, the compliance regime, the administration system, the camping-grounds regulations and the ‘responsible camping rules’.
“That’s right. Five more reviews leading us to the extraordinary situation where we have working groups calling for working groups.
These working groups are like mushrooms, breeding more of their kind in the dark.
“In a damning indictment on its lack of work in Opposition this Government came to power with so few ideas it’s launched 140 working groups and inquiries costing $170-odd million, to tell it what to do.
“Now it turns out not even those working groups have any answers and decisions are being kicked further down the road, with Mr Davis saying his ‘cross-Government plan of action’ is still off somewhere in the never-never. We’re talking two years before any major legislative change will bring relief to most popular tourist destinations, and to the communities in those areas.
“Worryingly, Mr Davis also says even those recommendations the Responsible Camping Working Group did make won’t all be ready in time for this summer’s peak influx of tourists.
“That will be hugely disappointing for a sector which generates $14.5 billion of export earnings.
It’s not just disappointing for tourism, it’s frustrating for locals who have to put up with rubbish and human waste left behind and councils who have to pay the bills for cleaning it up.
New Zealand’s natural beauty and relatively unspoiled countryside are among the reasons tourists want to come here.
Too many freedom camping, washing themselves, their dishes and their clothes in rivers and lakes, and leaving their rubbish and waste behind are damaging the environment and posing health risks.
An answer to the problems needs to be found and acted on in the next few months before the summer tourism rush starts.
“This is symptomatic of a Government that loves to set up reviews and working groups rather than actually get on and do the job. At a time when businesses are crying out for certainty this Government gives them less.
“What is Mr Davis actually doing? Tourism is a full-time profession and it deserves more than a part-time minister.
“In the meantime, the Government could pick up National MP Anne Tolley’s Freedom Camping Bill which would prohibit Freedom Camping more than 200 metres from public toilet facilities, provide more organisations with the right to restrict freedom camping, and provide for instant fines that have been issued to be collected by rental car companies. That will make an immediate difference.”
All of this could be easily implemented, could take effect and make a difference immediately.
Tourism competes with dairying as our top income earner.
We owe it to the people who contribute to that to provide them with facilities and infrastructure they need to visit without despoiling our country.