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Community & Business

16 June, 2023

Free camping RV trial has commenced

The day of the trial for the RV free overnight camping behind the Coo-ee Heritage centre finally arrived last month.

By Andrew Tarry - Local Government Reporter

The Gilgandra community can now watch on keenly over the next few months to see what impact there may be and perhaps formulate their own perspective on the success or failure of the program. Gauging what the impact of the trial will be on the Gilgandra region during and after its operating period is going to be complex.

The council will be collecting data over the period of the trial to measure the success of its key objectives. The data collection will form an essential component on the assessment of what travellers in recreational vehicles provide for the region and what they also require from it. It has been apparent for some time that the quantity and frequency of caravans, campervans, reactional vehicles, and self-contained motorhomes travelling through the township and region have been on the rise.

Arguably the pandemic increased the number of these kinds of vehicles and travellers on the roads, although the general trend of registrations and ownership has been on the rise according to the ABS and the latest report from the Caravan Industry Association of Australia Producing data and information on the quantity of caravan purchases, registrations, and general ownership numbers is tricky.

A simple snapshot of the state of the industry and the number and demographic of owners/users of caravans, RV’s, campervans etc., is difficult. The total amount can fluctuate due to a lot of changing variables. Initially international border restrictions during the pandemic and the inability to travel overseas seemed to create an increase of caravan ownership; this problem seems to have shifted to the high cost of travelling overseas even though borders are open.

The fluctuating cost of fuel is ever present; while the high cost of living, rising interest rates on mortgages, and even things which are harder to quantify like a desire for a change in lifestyle for some people/ families, have also contributed to the purchasing of recreational vehicles.

The council in its media release (published last week) alludes to this trend when it outlines that one of the proponents of the free camping trial is the benefit received by “leveraging increased region travel”. The pandemic had such an enormous effect on businesses and economies that even a year on from the last of the lockdowns the recovery is still ongoing. It is also uneven across industries, and some are finding it easier than others to return to pre-pandemic levels of output, performance, and prosperity.

It could be argued that out of the key objectives outlined by the council the most consequential are: “there is a direct benefit to Gilgandra businesses through increased visitor numbers and associated spend, and visitors who utilise the overnight parking area become advocates for the Gilgandra region.”

The current economic environment is a challenge for everybody and the additional business revenue and stimulus to the Gilgandra region is without a doubt a positive and welcomed benefit. However, who receives this benefit is still a complex and contentious issue.

When speaking to some of the local caravan park owners it became clear that for them, the idea of another free camping option is not a welcomed one. Further, they argue that the already existing free camping options around town are having a detrimental effect on their businesses. They readily voiced their frustration upon seeing these sites full when driving through town and when returning to their businesses are reminded that their park is only being used at half of its total capacity. The several locations around town where free overnight camping is available are frequented regularly by travellers. The owners of those businesses are positive and welcome the benefits provided by additional patrons spending money.

On regular occasions two to four RV, campervans, or caravans with two or more - although sometimes only one - people will eat, have a few drinks, use the bathroom amenities, and sometimes even donate money to the local cancer charity causes. When broached about the communication from the council prior to the commencement of the trial one caravan park owner said that council initially sat down with them and discussed the council’s plan for a free overnight camping site about three-years-ago. They had also received a notification from the council with a reminder of the trial the morning of the trial commencement. Although the initial discussion was some time ago, it is understandable that the bushfires, pandemic, and floods considerably delayed the trial and therefore the need to liaise with business owners.

The owners of the caravan park were reminded that the council had recently exhibited a public notice for the trial for at least 28 days, of which the council only received one submission raising concerns. Programs and initiatives can be highly beneficial to communities while acknowledging that not everyone may be satisfied or accepting of the situation. Communication and consideration are clearly paramount issues and are ongoing processes that can be improved at any time.

This trial will also take time for the proposed benefits to come to fruition. A few hiccups or challenges may occur over the next few months but that is not uncommon for a trial.

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