Hud Maughan wakes each morning wondering what ‘little delights’ he will discover in the front yard of his family’s Byron Bay home.
That’s if he managed to get to sleep in the first place.
The 39-year-old’s house is located next to the free parking zone in Byron’s Butler Street Reserve, putting him, his mother, and brother right at the pointy end of the town’s vanpacking problem.
Every night a dozen or more travellers park up in the reserve, playing loud music, leaving behind their rubbish and, more often than not, excrement.
‘Ever since the council made it free parking the backpackers have been taking advantage – staying there overnight, dumping their rubbish, and going to the toilet,’ he says.
‘The rubbish blows into our front yard and sometimes they defecate or urinate there.
‘It’s a health hazard, it’s absolutely disgusting.
‘We also have to put up with the sound of loud music and car doors being slammed late into the night.’
With vanpacking seemingly becoming more popular than ever, the issue is rapidly evolving from a seasonal annoyance into a serious problem.
Byron Council says it has rangers trawling popular spots like Butler Street Reserve on a daily basis over the summer period, yet that without the power to tow vehicles or use tyre clamps, there’s little more they can do.
Figures provided to The Echo show that Council has issued 74 infringement notices to people parking in and around Butler Street Reserve between 4am and 6am (when parking is prohibited) since November 18.
Six infringements for camping have been issued in the same area.
Wheel clamps needed
Labor’s candidate for the state seat of Ballina, Asren Pugh, called last week for parking rangers to be given greater powers, including wheel camping.
He said in a media statement that rangers had reported that some international tourists were not worried about fines as they simply left the country without paying.
‘Councils are spending significant ratepayer resources on policing illegal camping and they should be able to enforce the rules,’ Mr Pugh said.
Mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) agrees that tougher laws are needed to address the issue.
He told The Echo, ‘I really feel for any locals who are caught up in it, but until the laws are changed [by the state government] to give rangers greater powers there’s not much more we can do,’ Cr Richardson said.
Cr Richardson said rangers needed to be able to put wheel clamps on illegally parked vehicles and to tow them in certain circumstances.
‘I think if we could do that things would change pretty quickly, not just here, but across the Shire more generally,’ he said.
However, he said policing late-night parking restrictions in areas like Butler Reserve was hindered by the need to ensure the safety of rangers, the wider community, and the vanpackers themselves.
‘Often by one or two o’clock in the morning these people [vanpackers] have had a few drinks and that isn’t always a safe environment for staff to walk into,’ he said.
‘It’s also not always safe for the vanpackers to be told they have to leave because they’re heavily affected by alcohol.’
The mayor added Council rangers inspected the parking area two to three times a day.
But Mr Maughan is adamant that, in his patch at least, more needs to be done.
‘I would absolutely disagree with the mayor that there are rangers here two or three times a day,’ he said.
Free parking but little policing
‘I would say they are here every second day at most. I think it’s strange that Council have made it free parking here, but they’re not really willing to police the time limit.
‘I’m the one riding around on my bike every day telling people that they can’t camp here. Sometimes they’re okay and they apologise and move on, but other times they become quite rude and aggressive and refuse to leave.
He called on Council to either lock the gates of the reserve each evening, or to introduce paid parking there.
‘You could introduce paid parking but provide parking permits to locals and to people who to come into Byron for work.
‘At least they’re making a contribution to the town, unlike the backpackers.’