I have always had mixed feeling on freedom campers.
Love them, or loathe them, they love staying in our region.
But striking an appropriate balance between the need to welcome visitors and mange those who misbehave has proved difficult for our city.
My encounters with freedom campers have been both good and bad.
I get a bit fed-up of our busy city car parks being used as dining halls, and feel frustrated when children have been unable to use public restrooms due to hoards of campers brushing their teeth.
I even heard that some female freedom campers were washing their underwear in a public drinking fountain!
But, I know they are not all bad.
I was in Montgomery Square the other day, when I witnessed a local man swearing and yelling at a young freedom camper for rinsing a plate under a tap.
Afterwards, a group of local guys came up to him and apologised for the man’s behaviour.
They said: “Don’t worry, you’re welcome here.”
I then approached two American freedom campers who had witnessed it all from their van, to see what they thought of it all.
The two women raved about our city, and told me they that like many others, they were simply making the best of what facilities were available to them – respectfully.
They said that while they may not be spending money on accommodation, they were spending it at our local markets, cafes, shops and petrol stations.
Not just buying “$1 loaves of bread and cheap cask wine,” like some seem to think.
But, despite the good ones, I do think it’s a good idea that Nelson City Council are proposing a bylaw for next summer, which would mean that unless freedom camper’s vehicles are self-contained, they would have to stay at a motor camp.
And here’s why: Despite council spending $80,000 to create three designated areas that were actually used well, the problem areas, such as Buxton and Montgomery Squares and Tahunanui Beach, have still been jam-packed. It’s not ideal.
But until an appropriate bylaw is in place, freedom campers deserve to be treated with respect.
They are still our guests, and we want them to have a great time here, and most importantly, be kept safe. The Freedom Camping Bylaw will be discussed at a Nelson City Council meeting on March 23.