Government response to Acland Report issued

  • Jim Sutton
Rural Affairs

The Government has decided to embrace the Queen’s Chain ethos, which would see walking access would be extended along water ways with access value throughout the country, Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton said that Cabinet had endorsed a three-year programme which would see a new access agency clearly set out legal access where it currently exists and negotiate walking access across private property where there is none now.

However, the decision would not see the Queen’s Chain automatically extended to cover all the missing areas along rivers, lakes, and beaches, he said.

“The original Queen’s Chain has few restrictions on it, and we want to be quite clear that this new access is for walkers only. It is not for people in vehicles, people with dogs, or people with guns, unless they have the express permission of the landholder.”

Mr Sutton said the new 5 metre-wide access ways would also give way to a 50 metre exclusion zone around houses, and a 20 metre zone around farm buildings.

“This is a decision to enhance walkers’ access, not a right to intrude on people’s homes or business buildings.”

Mr Sutton said the Government intended to set up an access agency, which would provide information about exactly where public access was now, through mechanisms such as the Queen’s Chain, and assist with marking footpaths.

“About 70 per cent of water ways which should have had a Queen’s Chain registered actually got one, and in many cases, the water way has either moved or the designated Queen’s Chain area has eroded away.”

He said the Government wanted to ensure that New Zealanders have free and secure access along the coast, rivers, lakes and mountains while, at the same time, respecting the interests of property owners.

“Access to these iconic lands is a very important part of maintaining the ‘real New Zealand’. These places are of great cultural and social importance to New Zealanders, and having access to them is important.”

Mr Sutton said farmers had for many years, and many still do, give free access across their properties to beaches, lakes, rivers, and conservation land.

“I want to acknowledge the generous spirit New Zealand farmers have displayed to their fellow citizens. Unfortunately, over time, this has changed in many situations, particularly as ownership has changed, reflecting the increasing urbanization of our society. It used to be that many of our people had relatives on the farm who they would visit for holidays, thus learning how to behave in the often hazardous farm environment. Nowadays, that link is rare, and urban people are often disconnected from the realities of rural life.”

Mr Sutton said that comprehensive consultation last year showed broad support for a well-balanced access strategy to ensure certain, free, practical and enduring access to the coast, rivers, lakes and mountains.

“This issue is not a new one: people have wanted change for some time. The Labour Party has promised in its election manifesto in 1999 and 2002 to review the Queen’s Chain and to remedy access issues.”

He said the Government believed the popular expectation of public access to and along water margins – known as the Queen’s Chain - remained valid and needed to be reinforced, promoted and extended.

The New Zealand Land Access Strategy is based on a concept of High Quality Access, and addresses the five objectives advanced by the Land Access Ministerial Reference Group in its report, Walking Access in the New Zealand Outdoors.

Mr Sutton said such access carried with it responsibilities.

“We will also introduce a statutory code of responsible conduct, similar to that of the animal welfare codes, to ensure that people are aware of their responsibilities to the landowner when on rural land. Certain standards of behaviour are expected. ”

The Government intended to introduce a bill into the House mid next year to enact these recommendations.

“The public will have further input into this important issue when the bill is referred to select committee. But anyone wishing to have input into this process can also write to me at Parliament.”

Attached: Cabinet paper on Land Access decision.

For more information - common questions and answers, plus a backgrounder, click here.