Byron Council is trying to stamp out illegal camping in the shire.
Byron Council is trying to stamp out illegal camping in the shire. Contributed Paul Waters

'Vanpackers' degrading Byron Bay

THEY camp illegally in our streets and leave rubbish for locals to clean up and skip town when the council tries to crack down on them.

Byron United president Paul Waters said locals were now referring to illegal campers as 'vanpackers' to distinguish them from regular backpackers.

"Backpackers are quite good and they're what Byron Bay is about, but vanpackers are freeloaders who are outstaying their welcome and from a business and economic view it just degrades us a little," Mr Waters said.

"They park at our beautiful beaches for weeks on end, months sometimes and don't contribute anything to the community; they just take."

From January to November 2011, 8223 parking fines were issued in Byron Bay, although it's not clear how many were for street camping.

During the Christmas-New Year period, Byron Shire Council had a crackdown and issued 550 penalty notices related to street camping.

Council governance manager Ralph James said it was clear many backpackers left Australia without fixing up the bill.

"We know that happens and it's reasonably frequent," he said.

The council has asked the NSW Government to change the Local Government Act so it can regulate street camping.

The crackdown saw rangers starting work at 3.30am so they could fine people sleeping in cars during the no-parking period between 1am and 5am.

Bay Royal Apartments manager Phil Boyd said it would protect his business if more council rangers could work at these times.

"If they're going to put the signs up, police them, or put up 'no camping' signs," he said.

"On New Year's Eve they were drinking in cars all night and none of them got booked."

But Byron local of 22 years, Damian Farrell, 46, said he hoped the crackdown didn't result in Byron Bay becoming boring.

"All through my 20s I went around the world on a shoestring, but I also gave more to some of those communities than the average punter who has a wallet-full of money and a level of entitlement," he said.

"I don't want Byron to becoming increasingly more homogenised like other communities up and down the coast."

Byron Mayor Jan Barham said the issue had been "ongoing for years" and the council must act to address residents' concerns.

"People have had to endure sometimes noisy people or waste and rubbish left in their streets," she said. "The anti-social behaviour has been a problem. It's not fair to residents."



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