FOUR-wheeled travellers, backpackers and weekenders will need to think twice before carpark camping, with plans underway to consider options to restrict the practice in the Hastings.
Rangers are monitoring Hastings beachside carparks and reserves more vigilantly throughout January in a bid to move free campers along, before council conducts a full investigation of possible enforceable control options, ranging from a zero tolerance approach to addressing the issue in conjunction with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's consideration of designated short-term parking for RV vehicles.
Council's team leader of ranger services Ian Chetcuti said more than 60 campers have been spoken to between Christmas and New Year. The hotspots this season for overnight carpark stays are Town Beach, Shelly Beach and John Downes Park.
"All visitors spoken to have been very compliant and no breach of any legislations have been detected," Mr Chetcuti said.
Director of development and environment Matt Rogers said the legalities of enforcing free camping controls will need to be carefully considered. Over the holiday period, council is asking free campers ensure they do not stay in any one area for more than one night. In addition, rangers are advising visitors of their obligations to comply with environmental issues, such as disposal of litter, and their behaviour while stopped in these areas.
Council receives regular complaints from the community about travellers, often backpackers, parking their vehicles in public areas and residential streets naming disturbance, rubbish and loss of amenity among their primary concerns.
While free camping is not illegal, and under the Local Government Act cannot be policed, council has previously attempted to manage free camping by installing signs prohibiting parking between certain hours and issuing fines for breaches of the time restrictions.
"This approach tends to penalise all members of the community from using affected car parks and would make legitimate activities, such as beach fishing, difficult," Mr Rogers said. Council will include free camping as a part of the discussion in the development of a Destination Management Plan and the push to declare the Hastings an RV friendly town.
"We have changed the roster arrangements of our rangers from 6am to 6pm so we have boots on the ground," Mr Rogers said. "They will be able to do more with issues relating to free camping but without a strong regulatory framework we only have the power to move campers on.
"There are some hotspots we can target and move campers on but they just tend to end up going somewhere else."