Govt to negotiate with landholders over access

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The Government has backed away from a fight with landowners, scrapping plans to force them to provide walking access to waterways and other public places.

By DAN EATON – The Press | Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Rural Affairs Minister Damien O’Connor said yesterday the Government had accepted the recommendations of an independent panel on public access issues.

“All new walking access over private land, including Maori land, is to be by negotiation and agreement with the landholder,” he said.

“This is the Government’s formal position and reflects the consensus as laid out in the panel’s report. The report gives everyone a solid base from which to implement the policy.”

A unit within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry would be established to implement the new regime and advise on the setting up of a walking access entity to oversee local access issues, he said.

“The Labour-led Government’s approach to securing new public walking access involving private land is based on building on the existing goodwill and co-operation of landholders, rather than one of confrontation and compulsion,” O’Connor said.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution as each issue is likely to have a distinct history and set of circumstances.”

The only exceptions to the policy of negotiation would be where access was achieved through legal methods, such as through tenure review of pastoral leases, he said.

Priority in negotiations for access would be given to coastal areas and waterways where there was currently no access on the foreshore.

The panel’s report was made public in March after 18 months of consultation.

The report recommended the Government ditch any attempt to use a heavy stick against landowners to add to the Queen’s Chain and instead set up a government body to co-ordinate access.

The report says the new organisation will be an independent statutory body accountable to the Crown with a budget to mediate and, in extreme cases, settle land access issues through compensation to landowners.

However, it says in exceptional circumstances the Government could invoke the Public Works Act to compulsorily acquire land in return for compensation when all other avenues failed.

National Party agriculture spokesman David Carter said the result yesterday was a big backdown for the Government and its plans to force a 5m-wide strip of public access across private land.

“This is what we called for at the very time the Government embarked on this fiasco,” he said.

“They have a very poor record of taking the farmers on and being forced to back down. They’ve spent something in excess of $600,000 to deliver this report and the result has been to come up with the obvious.”

Fish and Game New Zealand, which had been critical of the report for not going far enough, welcomed the Government’s decision, saying it represented progress on the access issue.

“The establishment of the national access entity, and the roles, functions and funding of this agency, will determine just how well new access is acquired and lost access is restored and realigned,” chief executive Bryce Johnson said.

Federated Farmers spokesman Bruce McNab said the organisation was pleased the Government had emphasised voluntary negotiation.

“The response is welcome as it puts the final nail in the coffin of the Government’s unpopular access legislation of 2005, which was strongly opposed by farmers and other landowners for being unworkable, draconian, and unnecessary,” he said.

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