Talking the Walk on Public Track Use


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5:00AM Thursday October 18, 2007, New Zealand Herald

Talking the walk on public track use

The makeup of a new advisory panel on walking access is well balanced to represent the interests of both farmers and recreational hikers, the Green Party says.

Rural Affairs Minister Damien O'Connor yesterday announced the makeup of the new panel to advise on walking access issues.

The move follows the Government saying in August it accepted the recommendations of an earlier independent panel which was set up to investigate access across privately owned land.

The panel recommended that all new walking access over private land should be by negotiation and agreement with the landholder.

It recommended an advisory panel be set up to oversee implementation of its recommendations.

Mr O'Connor announced the panel's members and a list of priorities.

They include:

* Developing a mapping database for public walking access.

* Developing a strategy setting out new areas that should be opened up for access.

* Developing a voluntary code of conduct for walkers.

* Developing a memorandum of understanding with the Conservation Department about walking access on its land.

* Developing a range of options for a new walking access organisation.

Mr O'Connor said five members of the eight-member panel came from the previous panel, while the three new members had a close association with recreational interests.

The board would be chaired by the former panel's chairman, Geraldine farmer John Acland.

Green Party MP Metiria Turei said the new board appeared to have a "fairer balance of interests" than its predecessor. She said the original panel included three farming representatives, but only one with a recreational perspective, but the new panel was more even.

Ms Turei said the Greens agreed negotiation with landowners was the best way to open up walking access, but believed any new organisation should have the teeth to force the small minority of landowners who refused reasonable access to open up strips of land.

National Party agriculture spokesman David Carter said he welcomed the establishment of the panel, but it was vital it moved quickly after years of dithering.

"The establishment of the board will hopefully put an end to the silly debate around public access to private land, which has created a climate of fear in rural New Zealand."

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