News from the field - August 2013

'News from the field' provides a roundup of public access topics being worked on by the New Zealand Walking Access Commission's regional field advisors. This month, we hear from John Gardiner (Northland) and Chris Tonkin (Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast and Kaikoura).

John Gardiner (Northland)

John GardinerPart of the process overseas applicants need to go through when purchasing land in New Zealand is to engage with the Commission to assess public access opportunities over the property. The process is managed by the Overseas Investment Office, which contacts regional field advisors to help carry out these assessments - sometimes prior to the land purchase and sometimes afterwards.

These exercises can be quite exciting and, in my experiences to date, also involve rangers from the Department of Conservation who are engaged to assess the biological values and opportunities of the property. The rangers' involvement is invaluable as they often have strong knowledge of the recreational dynamics within the general area and any potential synergies with what DOC may be doing on neighbouring conservation land.

The attitude of the applicant towards public access over the property is also crucial to the outcome. Recently I began the process with an overseas-owned forestry company based in Kaitaia and it has been an absolute pleasure seeing their positive attitude towards the principle of public access through their forests.

We are currently exploring walking, mountain biking and horse riding opportunities in several of their blocks. Despite having longstanding negative experiences of unauthorised public access, such as drug growing, fire and machinery theft, they are still willing to be proactive in providing public access in the future. Their view is that if the public get to enjoy and value the passive recreational opportunities provided in their forests, they may be prepared to defend them from any negative activities in future.

Very enlightened, I say.

Chris Tonkin (Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast and Kaikoura)

Chris TonkinWith the statutory functions of the Commission being primarily facilitative, the key to resolving longstanding access issues often involves motivating other parties to do their part.

This particularly applies to situations when the right of the public to access legal road is hindered by a locked gate, adjoining land use or in some cases historic use of a road by an adjoining property owner

The ability to get traction on a number of such issues in the top of the south has, until recently, been difficult as other organisations have lacked the resources and time to carry out their responsibilities in respect of unformed legal roads.

In other cases the preservation of access through private land to the public estate is at stake.

The resourcing problem has recently been addressed in the Tasman District with the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Commission and Tasman District Council.

The agreement establishes a process for the council's customer services section to provide accurate and consistent advice in response to public enquiries about roads. In the case of access disputes it supports the Commission's regional field advisor negotiating with adjoining landowners to recognise concerns and to identify practical solutions for recommendation to the council.

In practice there are few new access disputes. Most have been around long enough for attitudes to have become firmly entrenched, and a quick and simple resolution is rare. There are very few 'easy' ones

The Tasman District Council initiative is a commendable move that has already resulted in the resolution of one longstanding issue and a positive outlook for others.

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