John Roughan writes:
Not much that happens in summer grinds my teeth but last weekend the Herald on Sunday reported outrage among a certain class of campers because the Department of Conservation might let private operators run its camp grounds.
Their outrage was particularly rich because the previous Sunday the same reporter, Kieran Nash, had found at Urupukapuka Island in the Bay if Islands that some of DoC’s regular customers are cheating those who would like to share the pristine places we pay for.
In case you missed it, they book out their favourite places every season by reserving much more than the tent site they need. One way they do this is by booking a site for every person in the tent.
They don’t have to be very clever, the department’s online booking clerks don’t appear to care how many sites someone takes. The sooner the place is booked out the better for the booking team. They were all on holiday when the paper sought comment.
Nor do the greedy need much money. In the hallowed principles of public ownership the department lets each site for as little as $8-$15 a night.
You could take three or four sites for the price of a night in a privately run camping ground.
No wonder DoC’s website usually has no vacancies. It is only when disappointed customers make a day trip that they find just a few scattered campers enjoying paradise.
Which is one of the reasons why subsidies often lead to inefficient allocation of resources.
In principle the Conservation Department wants as many of the public as possible to enjoy the estate their taxation maintains. In practice, it is not very good at making that possible.
Happily the department also has to minimise the public outlay and supplement its income where possible by allowing some commerce in the parks. Profit-makers are very good at maximising public use.
They have the right incentives to do so.
The department is talking to the New Zealand Holiday Parks Association about running its camp grounds and there is consternation in the wild.
A petition is circulating against roads, bollards and marked sites. The Green Party says the camps will resemble the suburbs people go on holiday to escape. Labour’s tourism spokesman predicts “canvas subdivisions”.
I camped in a canvas subdivision at a Coromandel beach last week. It was not the sort of suburb I live in – it was open to the neighbours, children played everywhere, family life was public. During the day people walked around totally unconcerned about how they looked. In the evening they socialised.
I thought people who talk of caring, sharing and social equality liked this sort of thing.
No, no, no, no. One can’t actually mingle with the masses.
So what exactly would be the problem for critics of private enterprise? It can’t be the cost because DoC’s fortunate few will pay that much for multiple sites. And it can’t be the environment because a camp operator would have an interest in helping to protect it.
Their problem, it’s very obvious, is people – too many people sharing their space and in their face. There’s no snob like a social democrat.
Driving around the Coromandel last week it struck me again how daft we are to lock up the mineral wealth of that whole peninsula. It is not wild and rugged like the Southern Alps, it is not covered in native rainforest like the Ureweras. It has attractive coasts, common in the north.
This country is not so blessed with economic resources that we can preserve the conservation estate for an intrepid few. Obviously a beautiful lonely landscape has to be kept that way for its economic value but there is plenty of room in our pristine environment to hide accessible resorts operated properly, profitably and fairly for the greater good.
Yep.Tags: DOC, John Roughan