The art of dispute resolution

In this article, New Zealand Walking Access Commission Board Member Penny Mudford discusses dispute resolution as it related to the Commission's work.

The Commission has about 60 access disputes under its watch at any one time.

Some disputes are initiated by people who are prevented from gaining access along unformed legal roads, while others result from lack of clarity about boundaries, access rights and understanding of the law. The Commission also manages cases where the public seeks access across private land to areas such as public landmarks, rivers, beaches and national parks.

In both instances the law is quite clear on public access. First, the public is entitled to access across public land including unformed legal roads, and second, private landowners are entitled to maintain closed boundaries to their properties.

One of the challenges for the Commission is to find ways to help the public maintain access to public land and to help landowners reach agreements on access over private land. 

Many landowners are generous and provide access willingly but there are others who like to keep their boundaries secure, and often for good reason. Landowners have no legal obligation to allow people access across their properties and this is often a point of tension and source of disputes in local communities.

Negotiation, mediation and arbitration are common forms of dispute resolution. However, the use of these processes is voluntary and can't be imposed on the people involved. Negotiation and mediation are often favoured for resolution of access disputes because they are more collaborative, requiring people to buy into the process and to work together to find a solution to access issues. This requires patience, respect, participation and co-operation from everyone involved.

The Commission's regional field advisors can play a vital role in access disputes by helping the individuals or groups involved to find solutions that work for everyone. They spend a lot of their time talking to people, clarifying rights of access over land, and helping to negotiate access. Their local knowledge is vital in helping to find fair and practical solutions.

About the author

Penny Mudford is New Zealand Walking Access Commission Board member. She is a Wellington-based dispute resolution specialist and a Fellow of the Arbitrators' and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand. Penny is an experienced director and coaches senior managers and directors in the areas of governance and conflict. She also has a background in agriculture with 20 years' experience as a dairy farmer and rural property owner in Manawatu. She is a former provincial president of Federated Farmers and was a supplier representative of both Tui and Kiwi dairy companies. Her position as a rural arbitrator ensures she continues to be involved in the farming sector. Penny was a member of the Land Access Ministerial Reference Group in 2003.

Page last updated: Sep 8, 2020, 3:46 PM