New site most popular spot

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The newly created freedom camping site in the Thomas Burns St car park in the central city has quickly outstripped other sites to become the most popular overnight spot in greater Dunedin.

Opened in November on a trial basis, the Thomas Burns St site has hosted about 3000 overnight stays in its first three months.

In the process, it has taken the pressure off freedom camping sites in Warrington, Ocean View and Brighton.

Dunedin City Council parks and recreation group manager Robert West said reducing that pressure was the “whole rationale” behind the trial.

In November, 540 vehicles stayed overnight at the Thomas Burns St site, compared with 571 at the Warrington site and 385 at the Ocean View site.

In December, 968 vehicles stayed overnight at the Thomas Burns St site, compared with 714 at the Warrington site and 391 at the Ocean View site.

January figures were still being finalised, but it appeared the Thomas Burns St site had hosted more than 1500 vehicles during the month, Mr West said.

Waikouaiti-Coast Community Board chairman Alasdair Morrison said having the Thomas Burns St site had been a big help in reducing pressure in Warrington, where freedom camper numbers were down 35%.

At yesterday’s annual plan meeting, he asked councillors to continue with the Thomas Burns St site and look for more.

“It has really helped Warrington, but there’s more to go yet,” he said.

Freedom campers at the Thomas Burns St site regularly spent money in the city’s bars and restaurants in the evenings and were part of the tourism economy, he said.

However, not everyone is pleased with the proliferation of freedom camping sites.

Leith Valley Holiday Park and Motels owner-operator John Aubrey said the availability of freedom camping spots had “definitely” affected his business.

There were some nights when his holiday park had vacancies and he would see “30 to 40” vans at the Thomas Burns St site.

“They may not all choose to come to a camping ground like ours, but some will.

“It’s really tough because we’re a small business; we’re paying rates.

“I don’t see it as a core responsibility of the council to be supplying free camping areas to freedom campers”.

As a residential and commercial ratepayer, he was “disappointed” the council was “using our money in opposition to us”.

Mr West said there had been only one complaint since the Thomas Burns St site opened – about a leaky tap – and the council had issued one infringement in November but none since.

“What we are finding is that the freedom campers are being respectful of the demarcation line into the leased car parking, which was something I was a little worried about,” he said.

Reviews from campers about the Thomas Burns St site had praised the central location and site facilities.

Campers were being encouraged to fill out questionnaires about their experience.

“At the end of this season, we hope to have data on what people are doing and spending in the city.”

The freedom camping trial at Thomas Burns car park will continue until April, after which the area will revert to casual parking and the council will assess the value of the trial.

The Thomas Burns St car park and freedom camping site will be temporarily closed from 8pm on Monday, February 4, to 7am on Wednesday, February 6, for Chinese New Year celebrations.