A review of the Walking Access Act 2008 (the Act) is required under section 80, which requires it to be undertaken within ten years of the Act’s commencement. A report on the findings of the review is due to the House of Representatives within eleven years of the Act’s commencement – by the end of September 2019.
The review is required to consider the need for the Act, its operation and effectiveness, and whether any amendments are necessary or desirable.
This report outlines the findings of the review, undertaken between November 2018 and August 2019.
Below is a summary of the most significant findings and recommendations for each of the major themes that emerged from the review.
Key Theme 1: Necessity of the Act
The review recommends retaining the Act, with changes made to it. It found resounding support for the ongoing necessity of the Act and of the New Zealand Walking Access Commission (the Commission), which it establishes. The Commission’s role as an honest broker between parties, its Regional Field Advisors (RFAs), its Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS), and its regional strategic project work are particularly valued.
Key Theme 2: Purpose, objective & priorities
The review found that the Act’s scope and the Commission’s activities are not accurately reflected in either the name of the Act or the Commission. The Act has always been concerned with public access for a range of activities, not just for walking. The report recommends that the name of the Act be changed to the Outdoor Access Act, and that the Commission’s name be changed to the New Zealand Outdoor Access Commission.
The report recommends changing the current purpose of the Act, which only captures ‘enjoyment’ as a benefit of access. The broader health, social, cultural, and economic benefits of access should also be acknowledged in the purpose section.
The review also recommends that Section 11 of the Act, which outlines priorities for negotiating access over private land, be replaced with a strategic planning process. Through this process, priorities would be set every three to five years, allowing them to adapt to changing circumstances and emerging access needs.
Key Theme 3: Challenges and future requirements
The review found there are many challenges and emerging needs in relation to establishing and maintaining access to the outdoors. Major challenges were: barriers to private landowners providing access; growing visitor numbers; lack of adequate infrastructure like carparks, toilets, and signage; equity of access; and the inflexibility of the current ‘walkways’ mechanism under Part 3 of the Act. The report identifies potential changes to the Act and work of the Commission to address these challenges and meet future requirements for access, including: continuing and expanding strategic, regionally-focused project work; the Commission considering equity of access for different population groups and types of access users; and further investigation into a relaxation of survey requirements for public access ways.
Key Theme 4: Functions of the Commission
This report recommends combining some existing functions (listed in section 10 of the Act) and framing them in broader terms. Three new functions are recommended for the Commission: partnering with Māori across the breadth of its work; contributing to policy work on access, such as providing advice to councils and involvement in Destination Management Planning being carried out by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE); and coordinating and building the capacity of volunteers. It also recommends the advice function specify public access advice is provided about applications to the Overseas Investment Office in Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), to the Office for Māori Crown Relations – Te Arawhiti, and to LINZ for the management of Crown Pastoral Land.
Key Theme 5: Partnerships
The review found that the Commission and central government agencies need to work together more on public access. Similar findings were made in relation to the Commission’s work with territorial authorities, with unformed legal roads noted as a key area in which greater collaboration would be useful. The report recommends options for improving policy-level collaboration across central government, and that further investigation be carried out into options for formalising the Commission’s role in processes to stop unformed legal roads. Further investigation is also recommended into options for integrating the responsibilities and functions of the Commission, Te Araroa Trust, and New Zealand Cycle Trail Incorporated (the national body responsible for governance of Ngā Haerenga – the New Zealand Cycle Trail).
Key Theme 6: Māori interests
To date the Act has had a limited impact on, and relevance for Māori. A key recommendation responding to this is that the Act include a statutory function for the Commission to partner with Māori across the breadth of its work, and set out explicit principles for this partnership (to be translated into its strategies and practices).
Key Theme 7: Controlling authorities
The report recommends investigating whether non-public bodies, such as community groups and Māori groups, could be appointed as controlling authorities to promote, maintain and manage access ways. This acknowledges the significant role these groups already play in maintaining tracks and trails, encourages local buy-in, and reduces the pressure on public bodies to carry out this role.
Key Theme 8: Governance
The report recommends that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) remains the administrator of the Act, that the Commission remains a Crown entity (Crown agent), and that the required number of board members remains at between five and eight. However, it recommends a change in relation to the board requirements, so that the Act specifies that the board will collectively need to have skills, experience and knowledge relevant to outdoor recreation, landowner and rural interests, tikanga Māori, local government and central government. Currently, the only skill specified in the Act is knowledge of tikanga Māori.
Key Theme 9: Resourcing
There was consistent feedback that the Government funding received by the Commission is inadequate. The report recommends that the Commission’s baseline funding be increased, at a minimum, to keep up with the pace of inflation. Further, the report recommends that any changes made to the scope or quantum of the Commission’s work will need to be accompanied by appropriate additional funding.
Key Theme 10: Specific legislative changes
A number of specific, technical changes to the Act have also been identified. Although not dealt with as formal recommendations, they are detailed later in this report.