Farmers fear trouble over access plans

June 14, 2010

Farmers fear trouble over access plans

By Neal Wallace

Created 14/06/2010 - 05:01

 Farmers are not convinced the Government's latest public walking access proposals will be as trouble-free as officials portray.

 A presentation by Walking Access Commission chief executive Mark Neeson at last Friday's Federated Farmers high country committee annual conference at Mt Cook left many farmers aghast.

 High Country Accord chairman Jonathan Wallis represented the view of many at the meeting when he said the commission was essentially going to go ahead with its access plans, leaving someone else to address problems as they arose. "You [the Government] are going to create an issue but not address it, because that is up to district and regional councils," the Wanaka farmer said.

 Of most concern to farmers was the commission's public promotion of an estimated 56,000km of paper roads - legally designated but unformed - which, because they have never been used or not used for decades, have merged into the landscape.

 In some cases, fences and buildings have been constructed over them. Because the public had right of access to paper roads, the commission would publicise where those roads were.

 Asked how disputed access to paper roads would be resolved, Mr Neeson said that was up to local councils which had legal jurisdiction.

 Mr Neeson said his department had been working with Federated Farmers on the project. He denied he was being irresponsible, saying the commission was launching a code of conduct later this month on how the public was expected to behave on private land.

 "We don't emphasis people's rights as much as we do their responsibilities," he said. It was a project that would evolve.

 The imminent release of information on where the public can walk comes after seven years of debate.

 Mr Neeson said the aim was to create access for walkers based on trust, independence and being responsible.  Most of the information was already available and the commission was simply collating it and releasing it to the public.

 Access over private land would only be with the permission of the landowner, he said.

 By the end of the year, the commission hoped to have maps of approved walking tracks and paper roads on its website, a point which angered farmers.

 Molesworth Station manager Jim Ward said he had had people turn up on his farm using GPS systems, but inaccurate technology meant they were several hundred metres from a legal road.

Accord lawyer Kit Mouat asked how the commission would ensure walkers did not stray from a paper road which went through a swamp or other impassable natural areas.

Mr Neeson said that was why the commission was releasing the code of conduct early, and just because there was a fence or building on the paper road, it did not mean a walker could interfere with the structure. "We don't want people with a laptop and a cadastral map and away they go," he said.

If landowners wanted a paper road closed, that was an issue to take up with councils, he said.


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