Will Byron Shire Ban Private Landholders Renting Camping Spots via YouCamp?
Shoalhaven Council is issuing cease-and-desist orders to local farmers who use YouCamp to rent camping spaces on their property. This raises the question: Will Byron Shire Council do the same?
Farmers who want to rent campsites out to the public are facing legal action from Shoalhaven City Council.
There’s a spot on Peter Botsman’s Kangaroo Valley farm, high on a hill, where you can take in a panoramic view of the valley, looking out onto rainforest and a waterfall running off an escarpment.
The idea of building a house there once flickered through his mind.
“But the thought of another bloody house on a hill in Kangaroo Valley just leaves me cold, and it is the most magnificent place,” said Mr Botsman.
Perhaps for not much longer.Shoalhaven Council has been aggressively seeking to prevent people like Mr Botsman from renting out camping spots on their private farms, and has sent him multiple cease and desist orders from using YouCamp.
YouCamp is a rapidly growing service connecting farmers with tent-pitchers and grey nomads. It is also another example of manner in which leisure and lifestyle opportunities are being created through communications technologies, and the way in which those technologies are rubbing awkwardly against older regulations.
“Instead of being stuck camping in some really crowded van park or an over-used public park like a national park, often you will have access to a place like [Botsman’s] where you’ll have 100 acres all to yourself,” said a founder and managing director of YouCamp, former Fairfax Media journalist James Woodford.
“These are some of the most beautiful and most relaxing campsites that you’ll find anywhere in NSW,” said Mr Woodford, who has sold 51 per cent of the business to the stock-market listed Super Retail Group.
“We’re not inventing anything new – we are just allowing people to do what they used to be able to do, which is go camping in authentic places.”
But Mr Woodford, who says around 700 properties are now listed on the site around the country, is not having things his own way.
Some councils, and near Sydney particularly Shoalhaven to the city’s south, are uncomfortable with the nascent business model and have been trying to prevent its use.
For its part, Shoalhaven Council says it is generally supportive of new tourist ventures, but under current law is required to approve land used as a camping ground.
“You have to appreciate, when campers pull up on an approved property to stay, and pay for the service, as advertised on sites like YouCamp, there is an expectation that they are safe,” a spokeswoman said.
“As an example in the last storm event, parts of the river rose anecdotally eight metres in a matter of one hour,” she said. “If people were allowed to just pull up on any private property then they could be at risk.”
The council’s attitude, however, has also frustrated Michael Fletcher, who rented access to part of his 2.5 acre property in Bomaderry over summer for between $25 and $55 a night.
“It took off unbelievably,” said Mr Fletcher, a semi-retired architect and builder.
“But we did overstep our situation … We really are only allowed to have two campsites but for two weeks we probably had four campsites on the same time.”
Mr Fletcher has been told that he would not be able to use the site unless he turned his property into a registered camping ground – something that would require thousands of dollars in supporting infrastructure.
“We don’t want to do that. We have no wish to become a camping ground. This is our house.”
For the users and promoters of services like YouCamp, there is an idealistic element that they see as threatened by council obstinacy. The service, after all, provides an incentive for farmers to preserve land to make it attractive to ecologically-interested travellers.
“I really believe that the best way for people to protect the environment is to have as many people come and experience it under good conditions and enjoy it, and that’s the way to protect it,” said Mr Botsman.
State parliament is running an inquiry into the regulation of short-term holiday letting, which has not yet concluded.