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War of words in campsite drama

A new operator is in place at the Lake Ferry Holiday Park following the sale of its assets to South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] – but the deal has a long and contentious history.

The former campsite leaseholder, Mary Tipoki, has told the Times-Age she suffered years of bad treatment by SWDC staff, which led to her eventually selling. SWDC spokespeople disagree, saying they worked respectfully with Tipoki, and her own actions and inactions caused her lease not to be renewed.

This week SWDC issued a statement saying a new operator for the facility – Chris Wagner of KiwiCamp – will be in place from July 1 for 12 months.

The council declined to disclose details of the deal, citing commercial reasons, but it is understood it bought the assets from Tipoki for more than $300,000, and has paid additional legal fees of more than $12,000. Capital upgrade costs would be on top of the purchase price.

The matter was recorded by the council in public-excluded business called ‘Lake Ferry Holiday Park Offer Report’ at a meeting in June,

“The SWDC has assumed responsibility for meeting the capital costs of the changes necessary to bring the campsite up to standard. This will be loan funded with repayments and interest covered by the revenue from the park,” a statement said, adding central government funding had also been applied for.

Tipoki said she was not offered help by SWDC to bring the site up to standard.

“They never offered to help me in any way. Not one bit of help in any direction, not money, not anything,” she said.

“They have just made it as hard as they can for me. They never offered to help pay for the work they said was needed.”

SWDC was asked if the council offered to fund the campsite upgrade during the period Tipoki was leaseholder.

“As stated in our previous response, we are unable to respond any further on this topic,” a spokesperson replied.

Tipoki said she had to sell to SWDC at a heavily discounted price because the council had refused her a licence, so she could not sell to a third party. She had organised a private deal but said it did not complete for this reason.

SWDC has disputed this, saying the council negotiated the deal with Tipoki in good faith, after other options had not progressed.

Last week, when the deal with Tipoki settled, SWDC issued a statement.

“The council’s manager of partnerships and operations, James O’Connor, said he is grateful for the constructive way that Mrs. Tipoki has engaged with council to reach an outcome that meets the needs of both parties,” the statement said.

“I’d like to acknowledge the huge amount of mahi done by the Tipoki whānau at the holiday park over a long period of time,” O’Connor was quoted as saying.

This week, O’Connor also made the following comments in response to questions from the Times-Age.

“SWDC has worked respectfully and constructively with [Tipoki] for a number of years trying to resolve various issues of non-compliance at the Lake Ferry Holiday Park. Ultimately [Tipoki] stopped engaging with a process to work towards compliance.

Without Mary’s engagement and with no clear pathway to rectification of breaches, Mary had the opportunity to sell the business on the open market, and when this wasn’t successful, the council negotiated in good faith to purchase the assets of the camp at a fair value,” O’Connor said.

“Given it was Mary’s actions and inactions that put the park in breach of the lease of council land and made it non-compliant with the camping-grounds regulations, we don’t believe there is any fair comparison to be made between [Tipoki] as operator and KiwiCamp as operator.”

Tipoki and her husband ran the facility successfully for many years since 2002, and she had run it alone after 2019 when her husband died.

SWDC had not issued the park with a campsite licence since 2019, citing regulatory breaches. This year Tipoki’s lease at the site expired and was not renewed because she had no campsite licence.

Tipoki has alleged unfair discrimination.

“Because I didn’t have a licence, I didn’t have anything to sell. They wanted to get rid of me, they wouldn’t let me sell the camp. They were never going to let me renew my lease. Now they’ve bent the rules for KiwiCamp.

“This all puzzles me. Why has SWDC bought a camping ground without consulting the ratepayers in advance?”

SWDC has disagreed with Tipoki’s account.

“The council has entered into a licence agreement that tasks KiwiCamp with managing the day-to-day operation of the park, getting the park compliant with the camping-grounds regulations, and making improvements to the facilities available at the park,” a spokesperson said.

“KiwiCamp has a strong reputation for producing prefabricated campground infrastructure and operates a digital platform to enhance the camping experience.”

SWDC’s refusal to issue Tipoki with a campsite license cited regulatory breaches.

Tipoki understood the substance of the breach related to the distance between static caravans at the site.

KiwiCamp is expected to apply for exemptions from the requirements that prevented Tipoki from being compliant.

Tipoki said she was not offered an opportunity to apply for these exemptions.

O’Connor has insisted that no offer has been made to either party.

“No offer has been made to the former operator that we know of, nor to the current campsite operator. SWDC will consider KiwiCamp’s application for exemption using the process set out by Regulation 14 of the Camping-Grounds Regulations 1985,” he said.

“They deliberately got rid of me so I wouldn’t have a new lease,” Tipoki said.

“They didn’t like me. This has been four years of ridiculousness.”

A SWDC statement said existing facilities at the site are outdated, and do not meet regulatory standards.

“To facilitate the necessary improvements, KiwiCamp will seek exemptions from the parts of the camping-grounds regulations that the park currently cannot comply with.”

If successful, a campsite certificate will be issued, with exemptions.

Work is expected to address laundry facilities, security, buildings, and grounds. O’Connor explained the campsite will remain open while KiwiCamp negotiates the exemption process.

“Shutting down the park until compliance is achieved was considered too disruptive to the over 80 owners of caravans with annexes that stay long term on the site,” he said, adding the primary compliance issue is the spacing between sites.

KiwiCamp also needs to work with site holders [on-site] on the issue.

“As far as SWDC is aware, the facilities open to casual campers [such as rubbish, number of toilets per camper, cleanliness of facilities etc.] are compliant.”

Russell O’Leary – SWDC group manager, planning and regulations – said his team has considered KiwiCamp’s application and are satisfied the threshold for granting an exemption is met, subject to a site inspection.

Tipoki said she and her husband had done extensive work at the site, including new ablution facilities, wastewater, landscaping, and electrical work.

“We worked for the community all those years. We made a huge contribution to tourism in South Wairarapa.”


    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZOnAir


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