Introduction

It is widely acknowledged that New Zealanders are a people who place significant value in spending time in the natural environment. This attitude reflects the wide-ranging benefits of access to the outdoors, whether in rural parts of our country or in our urban green spaces. We know that accessing the outdoors brings enjoyment to many people, improves our physical and mental health, facilitates social and cultural connections, and strengthens our communities and economy. Access to the outdoors can also help deliver environmental outcomes by allowing for re-vegetation and pest control work to take place.

Despite the significant benefits of access to the outdoors, such access can also have impacts on private landowner, business, environmental and cultural interests, which must equally be respected and protected. The role of the Act over the past decade, has been to strike a fair balance between these interests, with the overarching purpose of providing ‘free, certain, enduring and practical’ access to the outdoors.

This report outlines the findings, and accompanying recommendations, of the review of the Act, which took place between November 2018 and August 2019.

Section 80 of the Act requires a review of the Act to take place ten years after its commencement, with a report to be presented to the House of Representatives within the following year. The Act specifies that the review consider the need for the Act, its operation and effectiveness, and whether any amendments are necessary or desirable. Terms of Reference (TOR) for the review were approved by Cabinet in November 2018. The TOR were prepared after consultation with the Commission, pursuant to sub-section 80(1)(a). These are included at Appendix A.

The review was led by MPI (as the agency responsible for the administration of the Act), with the support of a three person panel of experts. The panel was made up of Dr Hugh Logan (Chair), Leith Comer QSO, and Sandra Faulkner. Panel members were appointed because of their knowledge about public access to the outdoors, how government works, Māori cultural values and landowner issues.

The review was informed by an extensive public engagement process, which took place between 17 May 2019 and 2 July 2019. The engagement process was supported by the release of the Reviewing the Walking Access Act 2008: Public Feedback Paper (Public Feedback Paper). The Public Feedback Paper included a series of discussion questions, intended to shape feedback to ensure it addressed the TOR. The Public Feedback Paper discussion questions are included at Appendix B.

Informed by the outcomes of the engagement process, this report includes recommendations for both legislative and non-legislative changes to the Act and the work of the Commission. It also identifies possible changes to other legislation where relevant intersections have been identified. The list of recommendations is included at Summary of report recommendations.

Options for legislative and non-legislative change proposed in this report will be subject to public consultation as part of a formal policy process. The timing for this process will be determined following the presentation of this report to the House of Representatives.