Indecision makes for happy campers

Indecision makes for happy campers

January 2018 | Sharon Webb

FREE CAMPING will continue in the Meander Valley as the council awaits a determination by the state economic regulator on whether it is detrimental to local business.

At the council’s December meeting, councillors voted to ask the State Government to review the existing application of national competition principles to free camping on council land in regional towns.

The move is a rethink of November council meeting’s decision to ban free camping in council reserves in line with competition legislation stating the councils cannot compete with the services of commercial businesses.

In response to the November decision, many Westbury businesses displayed signs supporting free camping.

A council report presented to the November meeting said local caravan park operators, residents and the State Government had raised concerns about free camping at Bracknell Reserve, Deloraine Racecourse and Westbury Recreation Ground.

Local caravan park operators are concerned about the economic impact on their businesses.

Residents are concerned about campers’ behaviour and impacts on the local environment in unmanaged areas.

The report said: “In late 2016 and early 2017 the free camping social network discovered the Westbury Recreation Ground and it became a very popular spot with up to 14 recreational vehicles and/or caravans staying most nights until March. The length of stay varied but there were a number of instances where campers stayed for up to five days.”

But Bracknell and Westbury businesses gained economic benefits from free campers spending money on groceries, petrol and meals, making a di•fference to their day’s takings: “There has been anecdotal evidence that having visited and experienced Westbury in particular, a number of free campers have decided to make Meander Valley their home. Free camping can attract a tourist cohort who stay a little longer, take time and engage with the locals.”

The legislation does allow council land camping as overflow for special events such as Agfest and the Tasmanian Craft Fair for a maximum of four consecutive nights.

Even in these cases where no facilities other than the location are provided, campers must pay a nominal fee.

At the November meeting Councillors Synfield, Richardson, White, Mackenzie and Perkins voted to close down free camping and Councillors Connor, Kelly, King, and Temple voted against.

Cllr Rodney Synfield said four Tasmanian councils had been successfully prosecuted over free camping.

Cllr Bob Richardson said: “It’s an issue of law; the economic regulator has issued a strongly worded statement which is based upon competition principles which, in e‘ffect, deters free camping,” he said.

Councillor Tanya King said Westbury’s current situation could be regarded as a good test case: “In my opinion we’ve got it wrong. The community has spoken and it is now up to us as community representatives to lobby for change to reflect the views of the community.”

The economic regulator oversees the integrity and fairness of operations of monopoly service providers in” Tasmania and responds to complaints about government businesses unfairly competing with the private sector in Tasmania.

Leave a Reply