Pub hosting freedom campers hit by ‘insulting’ council decision

File photo. - Photo: PHOTO NZ

A Westland pub and restaurant that came up with an answer to freedom camping pollution problems feels it has been kicked in the teeth by its local council.

After four years letting people park overnight on their grounds, the owners of the Woodstock Hotel are furious the council has quietly offered two nearby private unregistered campgrounds toilets and rubbish bins, while declining their own requests for help.

Colin and Leanne Cutler said they had accommodated about 15 to 20 vehicles on the lawns and carparking for free each night while taking care of rubbish removal and septic tank cleaning - initially by asking for $5 a night, and this year dropping that fee.

The Cutlers said it had been an effective way to save nearby reserves from potential rubbish while encouraging visitors to support their local pub and restaurant.

Mr Cutler this year found out the council was approaching other nearby private businesses asking them if they would become registered Responsible Camping sites with free installation of rubbish bins and toilets.

"It certainly wouldn't have hurt to consult. It certainly wouldn't have hurt to put something out saying, 'is anybody interested in having these sites?' Because we certainly would have put our hands up," he said.

The pair wrote to the Westland District Council asking if it would consider helping them out this summer - and the answer was a firm no, with the council saying it was already fully committed.

Mrs Cutler said that with a business model now centred around their regular freedom campers, they had been left in a precarious position.

She said it was lucky there was no sign of the other sites being set up yet, despite official freedom camping season starting this month.

"The insulting thing about the letter they wrote is it said 'perhaps you can have some of our overflow'. Well ... it's a bit laughable. We're looking for someone to take the overflow from us," she said.

The Woodstock Hotel's woes come after a council meeting in February when dozens of campground owners and residents voiced their thoughts about how the district could accommodate freedom campers without hurting local businesses.

The council agreed to review its freedom camping bylaw, establish a Freedom Camping Working Group, and rethink where its official sites are situated, ensuring they're away from registered campsites.

But Mr Cutler was still dubious if there'd been enough public consultation.

"As far as I'm aware, we've certainly heard no more from that meeting," he said.

"My opinion is that they've probably handpicked where they want these sites and then approached those people."

That sentiment was echoed by another local, Robyn Hoglund, but she said many West Coasters wished freedom camping could be banned altogether.

"I think everybody's just holding their breath thinking, hoping that last season doesn't repeat. But I kind of feel like it will," she said.

Westland District Council declined to comment because its spokesperson for freedom camping issues was not available.

It said its sites would become operational "over time" and the Woodstock Hotel was entitled to continue offering free sites.