Illegal campers take over old van park

HOW much would you expect to pay for a pristine waterfront campsite in the centre of Tweed Heads?

Try absolutely nothing if you're willing to take your chances at Jack Evans Boat Harbour.

Overnight campers are flocking in droves to the old Border Caravan Park next to Twin Towns Services Club, despite the area being clearly signposted as off limits.

The warning signs say campers face up to $550 in fines, but on any given day caravans, motor homes and even tents can be found between Boundary Street and the harbour.

So how are these people able to get away with it?

A spokeswoman for Tweed Shire Council said it was difficult for the rangers to prove people had stayed overnight.

“Rangers carry out regular inspections and random patrols of the site, and have issued a number of on-the-spot fines in the past,” she said. “The rangers also chalk tyres to determine how long vehicles have remained on the site. Officers will also respond to complaints from the public.”

But according to a local caravan park operator, council is not doing enough.

Andrew Tribe, general manager of Big4 Tweed Billabong Holiday Park, wrote to council about the illegal camping in April 2008.

Mr Tribe said not only did his business have to comply with strict regulations and pay for council inspections, but there were also issues with waste management when people stayed at sites not approved for camping.

“As a private operator subject to all the taxes, rates, council fees and other compliance costs, it is frustrating to see this take place seemingly unopposed by council,” Mr Tribe's letter said.

In response, council's general manager Mike Rayner agreed the illegal camping was a problem, but said council could only issue warnings or fines, or erect signs.

“You will ... appreciate the many other demands on rangers' time means they cannot be constantly policing the numerous camping site possibilities throughout the shire,” Mr Rayner said.

However, another local caravan park operator said she could sympathise with the illegal campers.

Jenny Lindberg, manager of the River Retreat Caravan Park in Tweed Heads South, believes there is a shortage of free overnight camping sites in Tweed.

“I think they should be able to (camp there) as long as it's on an overnight basis and not for days at a time,” Ms Lindberg said. “And people spend their money in the town in other ways, going to clubs or restaurants, so it all evens out.”

She also said it was good to see the land used.

“I think that land has gone to waste there,” she said.

“If it is a designated (camping) spot, you will stop people from sleeping in their cars at the beaches. This will keep them off the streets and it will be a lot easier to police.”

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