Budget van visitors: friend or foe?

ARE they freeloaders or revenue generators? That’s the continuing dilemma for south-west authorities as the influx of overnight campervans continues.

They usually arrive late afternoon and are gone by mid-morning after camping the night on roadsides, parks, foreshores and other venues close to cooking and toilet facilities.

There are usually signs indicating camping is prohibited.

Many of them are from overseas to sample as much of Australia as they can in a rental vehicle on a tight budget, buying food and fuel where needed.

Local laws officers sometimes ask them to move on and if fines are issued there is no guarantee they will be paid by the transient travellers.

Warrnambool City councillor Brian Kelson shone a spotlight on the issue briefly when he told Monday night’s council meeting there had been complaints about increasing numbers of freeloading campervan users arriving in the municipality.

“It’s getting worse. Vans are starting to show up in numbers,” he said.

“And you can imagine the mess left when they camp in areas with no toilet facilities.”

According to Corangamite Shire mayor and Great South Coast group chairman Chris O’Connor, Port Campbell is another hotspot for unauthorised camping.

“We’ve done work on better signage and I think we’ve made inroads, but it’s still an ongoing issue,” he told The Standard.

“You can prosecute, but the chances of getting a payment are minimal.

“If you push them away from populated areas they are just as likely to go into our natural environment.”

He came up with possible solutions — fine the owner of the vehicles and/or follow the USA example where campervans are allowed to park outside supermarkets for free on the understanding the visitors will make purchases.

“It would be much easier to police if councils could prosecute the vehicle owner,” he said.

“The enforcement agency would get some return.”

City council health and local laws manager Ian Fitzgibbon said officers monitored and investigated free camping in public places.

“Recently council staff have been involved in forums, conducted counts of overnight camping/staying, installed signage in problem areas and moved vehicles on where community safety and amenity have been affected,” he said.

“The local laws team will continue to investigate ways to reduce free overnight camping/staying in public areas.”

Warrnambool Tourism Association secretary Di Parker said the camping industry did not support “non-compliant” camping in towns or near registered accommodation parks.

“On the other hand we still get lots of campervan users who book into registered parks and pay to enjoy the facilities,” she said.

 Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell said he thought overnight camping should be allowed on roadside stops.

“Fatigue is more of a safety problem than is litter,” he said.

“Most people camping are very responsible and take rubbish with them — better signage or more bins may help.”

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