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An agile system of access
Part of the Commission’s work involves creating new access rights over land. Typically, the land is defined by survey when the parties enter into formal agreements, which are then registered against the affected titles.
Surveying the access rights and recording their location in the cadastre helps the landowners and users know the extent of the right and the location of the boundaries. The cadastre is managed by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) and provides the foundation for our system of property rights in this country. The Commission helps to make that information more publically available by showing the routes with legal access in its Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS).
While the law provides a high level of confidence and certainty it does not readily allow for flexible access arrangements. By its very nature, such a right is also a restriction on the property owner.
Take the situation where a landholder has granted access through a legal easement over some paddocks to a river. What if they want to move access for a season to another part of the paddock, for example, because a particular type of crop was planted? Under current arrangements, shifting an easement is difficult and would require re-surveying and new legal documentation to vary the easement. Quite a drama, and costly and time-consuming.
Together with the Office of the Surveyor General in LINZ, and the School of Surveying at the University of Otago, the Commission ran a workshop in early April to identify a more innovative solution that is capable of recognising more flexible access arrangements. Around 40 people attended from universities, central and local government, the farming sector and the private sector.
The workshop identified the Commission’s focus on showing access and the role of the cadastre in recording the location of the associated rights and restrictions. Not all access needs to be flexible. Some access needs to be located with a high degree of certainty at all times. The workshop suggested a three-tier hierarchy for access:
- Access that would be defined and unlikely to move.
- Access that had the potential to move infrequently. The ambulatory riparian access regime in New Zealand is an example.
- Access that may want to be moved fairly frequently.
Based on the idea that access is generally a contiguous ‘trail’ of some description, the workshop landed on the idea of access being defined by a “ribbon” across the landscape. Key points of the ribbon could be tied down, such as the start of a trail, or points where a trail goes through a gate. But the location of other parts of the trail could vary according to time of year, farm management practices or other reasons.
In order for this concept to work, we would need to know how landholders and recreationalists can easily ascertain where the access route is at any particular time. One solution is that the Commission’s WAMS could be the go-to information source for the current location of an access route, supported by signage or markers on the access route itself. At the moment, WAMS is not universally available due to the lack of universal cell phone coverage across New Zealand, but this situation is improving all of the time.
Over the coming months the Commission will work with LINZ and stakeholders to explore the concept of agile access further. We will look at how the concept could work in practice and explore trials of the concept. We are hopeful that the idea of agile access will become a useful new tool in the access toolbox.
By Eric Pyle, chief executive.