Review of the Walking Access Act

Conclusion and next steps

It has been nearly 11 years since the commencement of the Walking Access Act 2008 and the establishment of the New Zealand Walking Access Commission.

Together, the Act and Commission seek to provide free, enduring and practical access to the outdoors. Enshrining a system for negotiated public access in legislation attests to the significant value of access to the outdoors, including as a fundamental part of New Zealand culture. This sentiment was affirmed through the Act’s review.

Those who engaged in the review overwhelmingly felt the Act has achieved good results, and is still highly valued and necessary.

While the Act and Commission are still needed, there are actions that need to be taken to meet current and future challenges. This report has proposed a number of legislative and non-legislative changes that could address these.

Equity of access, as a focus of the Commission, will mean that New Zealanders and international visitors of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities will be able to share in the benefits of accessing the outdoors. Equity will likely be a key matter for the Commission to consider when it determines its priorities every three to five years.

More collaborative ways of working, between the Commission and central and local government, will help develop a more coherent approach to public access. This includes addressing the frequently raised issue of the management of unformed legal roads.

Greater collaboration will also assist in addressing poor visitor behaviour, which can be a major barrier to private landowners providing access, and in addressing increasing infrastructure demands as a result of the pressure created by growing tourism.

It is also clear that the Act can better reflect the interests of Māori, including acknowledging the Māori-Crown relationship under the Treaty of Waitangi. While Māori have engaged in some areas with the Commission, an Act that explicitly sets out the commitment of the Commission to partner with Māori is likely to attract more Māori to use its services – whether this is in seeking access to sites important to them, or in providing public access over Māori land.

Significant cultural and health benefits will flow from greater inclusion of Māori in the Act, as detailed earlier in this report.

Pursuant to section 80 of the Act, this report will be presented to the House of Representatives by the end of September 2019. A formal policy process, including consultation, will then take place, prior to the Government’s decision on what changes will be made to the Act and work of the Commission.

The review team acknowledges those who took the time to provide feedback on the review and helped shape the opportunities, identified in this report, to improve public access to New Zealand’s unique and magnificent outdoor resources.