NZ Herald article: Law Change


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Up ] Next ] August 17, 2004

Law change to open sea, lakes, rivers

14.08.2004 - By RUTH BERRY

People should be allowed to walk along the coast, lakes and rivers - and property owners should not be able to stop them, the Government has decided.

It wants to develop a code of conduct which, with limited exceptions, will require landowners to let the public walk along defined strips next to waterways.

Reasonable access would have to be provided across private land to the waterways, probably along marked routes.

But the Weekend Herald understands the Government is likely to tighten trespass laws, introducing tougher penalties for people who abuse the new rights of access.

A "land access reference group" established by the Government last year recommended that it take the step, despite strong opposition from farmers and most other landowners.

They believe it infringes their property rights.

Legislation introducing the changes is likely by the end of the year.

The access group, chaired by John Acland and including former National MP Eric Roy, said the public right to enjoy New Zealand's outdoors was more limited than often thought, and the conventions and rules governing land access were becoming increasingly unstable.

A common misconception was that all water bodies were fringed by 20-metre strips of public land known as the Queen's Chain.

The access group said up to a third of the country's waterways were lined by private land, but the Government now believes up to 50 per cent of them may be inaccessible.

The Government made the access decision some time ago, but had not planned to announce it until officials had worked through the detail.

Concern that information was leaking out is believed to have prompted Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton to give an update to groups who had made submissions on the access group's recommendations.

The recommendations, sent to the groups this week, say access should be "free (no charging or hindrance) to New Zealand's outdoors and iconic land. This includes walking access along waterways".

Mr Sutton refused to comment further yesterday, but the update said the plan would not involve adopting a "right of roam approach" which would enable the public to wander at will on private land.

A land access agency is expected to be created to negotiate arrangements with landowners.

It is not known if compensation will be offered.

The Government will not want to buy most of the land in question, but it does not appear to have ruled out some purchases.

Under existing trespass laws people cannot be prosecuted unless they have received a warning.

The Government is likely to mollify landowners by enabling charges to be laid without a warning against people who breach the conduct code by leaving designated paths.

Fish and Game NZ director Bryce Johnson said yesterday that the decision was a "magnificent move".

Public access to the outdoors was being actively restricted, and existing laws did not protect the public interest.

Freshwater fish and wildlife were not attached to land titles and were therefore part of the public estate, to which people should expect to have reasonable access.

But some landowners were misusing the Trespass Act to restrict access and "effectively obtain exclusive capture of these public resources".

Federated Farmers has reacted angrily to the Government's decision.

It is further annoyed by the fact that it was not given Mr Sutton's update.

President Tom Lambie said the Government was proposing to introduce a "right to roam by stealth" on farms.

The change, he said, significantly eroded a right much cherished by New Zealanders "to have secure title for their home and for their business".



* No right of public access to the coast, lakes and rivers is enshrined in law, and as access is being increasingly restricted, the Government must act.

* Unwritten social conventions have always endorsed the right to access.


* Private property rights include the right to say "no entry".

* Unrestricted access exposes landowners to liabilities, such as fires and property damage, against which they have little protection.

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