2013 Mark Neeson

Roads should stand the test of time

By Mark Neeson, Chief Executive, New Zealand Walking Access Commission.

We are fortunate in New Zealand to have a network of land set aside to provide ready access to many of our rivers, lakes, mountains and beaches.

One of the most enduring forms of access we have is roads, formed and unformed. All road is equal in law.

Territorial authorities are responsible for administering roads, and decisions regarding the maintenance or use of the road rests firmly with the council. In instances where a landholder applies to close or stop a road, or where access is restricted, the council has the primary responsibility for resolving the issue or making the decision.

Managing these processes and the mix of public and private interests requires time, patience and collaboration. The Commission has produced a guidance document for councils and the public called Guidelines for the Management of Unformed Legal Roads. The guide is available on the 'Publications' page of our website and I encourage anybody involved in road management to read it.

Guidelines for the Management of Unformed Legal Roads

The guidelines cover road management topics in-depth, including road stopping. This is a particularly fraught topic and councils must carefully consider potential future uses before making a decision. An unformed legal road may not appear to be well used by the public today, but that does not mean that it will not be in the future. A decade ago many of us would not have imagined the growth in cycle tourism and subsequent demand for cycleways, many of which utilise unformed legal roads that have previously been largely unused.

Roads also provide economic benefits, and help facilitate future subdivisions. And, as councils have found, once a road is closed, it can be difficult and expensive to reinstate.