Meander Valley Gazette

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The hidden costs of free camping

NewsJoanne EisemannComment

April 2018 | Sharon Webb

COMPLAINTS FROM businesses and residents have caused Meander Valley Council to shut free camp grounds in Bracknell and Westbury and Deloraine is next on the list.

The move is unpopular with other businesses in those areas which depend on campers spending for increased profits.

Councillor Tanya King said many business people in Westbury are “outraged, frustrated and angry” at the closure.

“I hear about it as I go about my daily routine the butcher, the hairdresser, the pharmacy, the service station, food retailers and service providers such as the library,” she said.

“The message is clear: people want campers in our towns the vibrancy, energy and the financial contribution they bring is now sorely missed.

“I have heard residents comment that tourism has finally taken off and now the very people sharing our beautiful region are being driven away.”

But Meander Valley Council manager Martin Gill said he had no choice but to shut down the campgrounds.

Council had already discussed the fact that offering free camping on council property was against Federal Government’s national competition principles to prevent local government competing against local businesses by offering free camping.

Recently, a business or resident complained officially about the camping.

“On review, it was clear that camping did not have the appropriate planning approvals,” Mr Gill said.

“Under the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act (1993) council is obliged to enforce the provisions of the planning scheme. Because no permits were in place council had to stop the activity.”

Mr Gill said that despite councillors’ December vote to keep campgrounds open until the State economic regulator gave a clear direction on the matter, once council received the official complaint the planning laws had to be applied.

Complaints about camping at Bracknell generally have been about the impact on other tourism accommodation businesses - but many complaints are about camper behaviour.

Poor camper behaviour complaints have also increased in Westbury with regards to noise, camp fires, safety for young users, public urination, , impact on existing uses, dumping of grey water and free access for campers while other users pay, Mr Gill said.

In contradiction, Councillor Ian Mackenzie moved at the March council meeting that the Bracknell campground, used for that purpose for 50 years, should re-open or that the Bracknell recreation ground be used until camping can resume at the river reserve.

“I believe council did not need to shut down camping at Bracknell; all that was needed was to implement a fee,” he said.

“Tasmania’s economic regulator Mr Joe Dimasi never mentions a camping area has to close, he states they need to ‘implement a fee structure’.

“I believe a fee with an honour box system as provided by Parks and Wildlife services in camp sites and national parks in Tasmania could be sufficient or at least used as an interim measure.”