Illegal camping in the North Shore has become worse over the past week, as reports of a fire being lit under a protected tree, knives thrown at seagulls and residents being abused have authorities desperate for solutions.
Council-owned land at Castor Bay, Narrow Neck beach and Balmain Reserve in Devonport have been occupied by campers since last Monday. And the same has been occurring at a host of beaches in the Hibiscus Coast region.
Devonport-Takapuna Local Board chairperson Ruth Jackson said roughly 70 campers descended on the Devonport beaches and reserves. Police were called to deal with Castor Bay campers twice in five days.
Jackson made the second 111 call after watching an agitated woman throw shoes and table knives at a seagull that wouldn’t leave her alone while she was making dinner.
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According to Jackson, illegal campers at Balmain lit a fire under a protected tree at the end of the park. A resident who attempted to correct their wrongdoing was “literally chased off the reserve in anger”.
Complaints from residents flooded in about loud music blasted late into the night, rubbish bins filled to overflowing, public toilet blocks turned into neglected kitchens and food scraps left on beach fronts.
Meanwhile, Jackson said the local Takapuna camping ground, which charges $50 a night, has been half empty.
Auckland Council bylaws prohibit camping overnight on beaches or any other place unless it has been set aside by council for that purpose.
Inspector Callum McNeill of Waitematā East Police said they’ve been working closely with Auckland Council to educate the public on camping rules. He said a call-out to Castor Bay on January 7 saw campers agree to leave after the rules were explained to them.
“Anecdotally we can say that we are aware of a few complaints around those camping on the beaches,” said McNeill.
“But as we said, those police have dealt with have been very co-operative and moved on if asked.”
According to former North Shore City mayor and current board member George Wood, police in Auckland don’t have authority to enforce council bylaws and require the presence of council compliance staff – unlike in other parts of New Zealand.
“It’s an embarrassing situation for us here,” said Wood.
Wood said the local board would meet on Tuesday to discuss its approach to tackle illegal camping. But, according to Jackson, nothing will change unless council compliance staff get more resources.
“A lot of council staff are overworked, compliance staff have left over Covid and haven’t been replaced,” said Jackson.
“The floods of emails and phone-calls, the complaints coming in and knowing there weren’t enough to go around. They were going like the clappers, dawn to dusk with no respite and knowing they only got through a tiny fraction of the complaints that came in.
“Our staff are at breaking point.”