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‘Freedom camping’ enforcement goes awry

Geoff Helisma

Preventing people from ‘camping’ in their vehicles on Clarence Coast foreshores and reserves from Yamba to Angourie was destined to be fraught, considering the constraints NSW traffic laws place on enforcement of the idea.

The implementation of Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) ‘trial freedom camping enforcement program’ over the Christmas holidays amplified the difficulties in targeting those who choose to sleep in their vehicles.

Subsequent to the installation of no parking signs – from 12.30am to 5am – along Ocean Street, Yamba on January 24; on the morning of the 25th CVC’s rangers booked illegally parked vehicles, irrespective of whether or not people were ‘camping’ in their cars – raising the ire of some of those affected.

Following a process that involved community consultation and the formation of a working group chaired by Cr Peter Ellem, councillors unanimously endorsed the program at the October 2017 Clarence Valley Council meeting.

The program was flagged to run “over the coming Christmas/January holiday period [until] Easter 2018”.
Councillors also decided to “undertake community engagement with key stakeholders and broader Yamba community in advance of the enforcement program commencing”.

Two fishermen, who were booked while parked in one of the no parking zones at Green Point, contacted the Independent with their grievances, labelling the program as “draconian” and “outrageous”.

One of the men, outlined how he has “fished the early morning high tides” at Green Point for decades in a letter to Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, asking him to “help [him] get an exemption [from] the [$110] parking fines”.

“I am also against free camping,” he wrote, “but council should target these people, but not everyone using these areas for their own enjoyment.”

Clarence Valley Council’s Environment, Planning & Community director Des Schroder said that CVC could not target people for sleeping in their vehicles on a public road or in a car park because “under the roads act it’s legal to sleep on a road in NSW unless you explicitly have a no parking sign of some kind installed”.

On the perceived lack of community consultation prior to the signs’ installation, Mr Schroder said there were various community representatives on the working group and that over “300 letters were sent to adjoining landholders where signs were to be erected”.

Anecdotally, Mr Schroder said there were “not as many freedom campers this year … comparable to recent years”; however, he did not necessarily attribute the decline in numbers to the program, which was based on Byron Shire Council’s implementation of a similar scheme.

Signs were erected in the Angourie/Green Point area before Christmas, whereas signs in Yamba were not erected until January 24.

He could not confirm comments made by CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, in another valley newspaper.

Mr Ashley was quoted to have said: “We could look at some way of issuing stickers or some sort of identification for residents and renters to put on their cars to avoid [being fined].

“In the meantime the council is inviting anyone who thinks they’ve been caught out unfairly to email the council and explain their situation and we’ll look at waiving the fine.”

Alternatively, Mr Schroder said people with grievances can address their issues to State Debt Recovery, as indicated in the penalty notices.

He said installing the signs had cost less than the estimated $20,000 and that the trial’s outcomes would be reported back to council at an undisclosed time in the near future.

Councillors also resolved to “seek to have the set-up costs recouped through penalties during the course of the trial”, which equates to approximately 35 tickets per week.

Mr Schroder said several signs in the Angourie area had been vandalised, receiving a coat of black paint.

More details on the program can be accessed via CVC’s website in the minutes of the October council meeting and the attached working group’s minutes.