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News from the Field - February 2017
'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 Gibbs (Taupo and Bay of Plenty), and Penny Wardle (Marlborough, Kaikoura, Nelson and Tasman).
John Gibbs, Taupo and Bay of Plenty
It’s interesting to see a greater number of potential overseas purchasers of land approaching the Walking Access Commission for advice or comment on public access opportunities before making formal application for consent from the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
This seems a sensible thing to do as it provides an opportunity for the prospective purchasers to understand any conditions of access the Commission might seek to have included in an OIO consent to ensure access remains for future generations. After enquiring to the Commission, a prospective buyer is then able to factor the costs and management implications of any likely access conditions into their eventual purchase decision. Should they decide to proceed, it also creates the opportunity for them to clearly outline how they will take any relevant public access considerations into account when they make their formal application.
I recently received one such pre-purchase enquiry involving a block of forestry land next to a river that currently has no public access over it. While there is an esplanade reserve on the river bank, its practical use is somewhat constrained by topography, and it can really only be traversed by fit walkers.
The prospective purchaser is offering to build and maintain a public walking and cycling track on the land with several access nodes down to the riverside esplanade reserve for use by walkers, cyclists, picnickers, anglers, family groups and others. They are also willing to consider wider walking, cycling and hunting access over the rest of the property, with some conditions to ensure public safety and to manage fire risk during the warmer months.
The Commission was able to provide positive feedback on these proposals.
One of the challenges for many land owners enabling public access over their private land is managing the access in a way that minimises the cost to their operation. In the past, the conventional approach has been to propose a gazetted Walkway under the Walking Access Act 2008.
This is still a very good tool as it not only ensures certain and enduring legal access, but allows controls to protect the owner’s property and interests. This may include prohibitions or restrictions on the use and carriage of vehicles, dogs and firearms, closure during lambing and calving, or during periods of high fire risk. There are also effective compliance and offence measures.
The Commission appoints a controlling authority for day to day management and maintenance of walkways. The controlling authority is usually a local authority or the Department of Conservation, but it can be any public body. Where a potential controlling authority is concerned about costs as part of the role, the Commission supports the option where day-to-day maintenance is undertaken by a local group or organisation (such as tramping, mountain biking and hunting clubs and associations). This may be accomplished by a Memorandum of Understanding between the parties – land owner, controlling authority and community group.
Providing there is an access instrument providing enduring access, such as an easement with clear agreed objects and limitations, this may be an avenue worth considering where circumstances constrain the use of more conventional arrangements.
Penny Wardle, Marlborough, Kaikoura, Nelson and Tasman
A year into my role as a regional field advisor for the New Zealand Walking Access Commission, advising on public access through land being sold to overseas owners makes up much of my caseload.
Since March last year I have picked up cases involving people from overseas who have bought or are in the process of buying 34,200 hectares of forestry land in the Marlborough, Tasman and Nelson regions. That’s about one fifth the size of New Zealand’s biggest farm, Molesworth Station.
The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) requires that overseas purchasers of ’sensitive land’ ask the Commission to identify existing and potential public access opportunities. The Office and responsible ministers then consider Commission advice, for possible inclusion in conditions of purchase.
Enquiries are usually made after the OIO has agreed that land can be sold to an overseas owner, providing conditions including consulting with the Commission are met. Increasingly though, potential purchasers are making a “pre-enquiry”, looking to the Commission for advice on what public access they might be able to offer to smooth their application.
The forests I’m dealing with qualify as sensitive land on sheer size alone. Some include areas highly valued for access, for example many visitors to Mount Richmond Forest Park drive on historic public access easements to reach a network of tramping tracks. These easements run from the north bank of the Wairau River in Marlborough through forestry land, which an overseas-based company is applying to purchase.
In other forests, mountain bike riders enjoy tearing along trails through production pine forests with the permission of managers.
As well as requiring that existing access be maintained, the OIO can require new access.
Having spent time talking with recreation advocates and looking at maps, I am looking forward to making on-the-ground visits and working with forest company managers to explore priority access. Then comes the job of writing recommendations for the OIO to consider and following up on whether conditions set in the past have been met.
The purchaser of a forestry block in Marlborough, for example, has agreed to create walking access from the road to the Waihopai River, then along the river’s true right bank. I will be taking a look to see whether this is in place and letting people know about it.
Of course, there is no public interest in accessing many isolated production forest blocks sold to overseas owners. Where there’s no historic use, adjoining conservation land, rivers or potential access to the coast, I am unlikely to recommend new public access provisions.
If you would like to know more about ways the Commission addresses potential walking access around overseas land sales, check out our website. To research OIO decisions, go to the Office’s website, where a monthly summary is published.
Image caption: Trampers climb through forest towards Mount Richmond, having reached the Forest Park by driving through a neighbouring pine plantation.