Review of the Walking Access Act

Necessity of the Act

Across all engagement feedback, there was resounding support for the ongoing necessity of the Act and the work done by the Commission. Although feedback identified areas for improvement, it was strongly believed that the Act and the Commission should continue. At forums such as public meetings in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch, there was unanimous agreement on this point. Support for the Act and the Commission was spread across individual access users, landowners, community organisations, and major stakeholder and peak bodies.

Many Māori stakeholders who provided feedback did not explicitly address the question of the necessity of the Act or the Commission. Some Māori noted that to date, neither have been particularly relevant or proactive in addressing issues relevant to Māori. However, Māori stakeholders were positive about the potential of the Act to better meet their needs, and supported its continuation in this context. This is addressed in greater detail at Māori interests.

Submitters highlighted a range of reasons for the ongoing necessity of the Act and the work done by the Commission. Many linked this to the importance of public access to the outdoors more broadly, citing the economic, social, health and wellbeing (including physical, mental and spiritual), educational and environmental benefits that this brings. Territorial authorities also pointed to the relationship between safe and well-connected public access routes (particularly in urban areas) and increased use of public transport, due to the connections provided for these services. This results in health benefits for those using active forms of transport, while also contributing to environmental and urban planning outcomes.

Feedback suggested that improved and well-defined networks of public access not only provide a tourism incentive, which benefits the economy, but also helps transfer wealth from rich urban hubs to rural areas. For example, territorial authorities in regional areas emphasised the economic opportunities and benefits for local business generated by tourists seeking to experience the region’s outdoor spaces. Economic benefits were also noted in that active communities draw fewer resources from other government portfolios (for example, Health).

Many submitters noted that outdoors access is fundamental to New Zealand culture and identity.

The sentiments described above were echoed in feedback about the scope of the Act’s purpose and objective (see Purpose, objective and priorities).

Another key issue identified was the ongoing existence of public access gaps and barriers. One submitter noted that ‘[s]mall parcels of private land continue to exclude New Zealanders from vast tracts of public land.’ Similar comments were made in the context of ongoing barriers to public access across, or to, certain sites on private land. The Act and the Commission were identified as vital tools to continue addressing these issues. Territorial authorities, in particular, cited examples of the Commission’s work to date to resolve public access issues in their areas. For example, one territorial authority described:

‘The Commission has supported parties locally and we believe the assistance of the Commission as an objective third party with specific knowledge of the legislation, and experience in dealing with these matters, was instrumental in agreeing a path forward.’

All feedback from territorial authorities underlined general support for the Act and Commission, even where their interaction with the Commission had been limited or non-existent.

Looking ahead, submitters also highlighted that factors such as growing urbanisation, increasing tourism and population numbers, greater commercialisation of farming, overseas investment in land, and increasing pressures on the natural environment, meant that the Act and the Commission were more important than ever. Greater and more defined public access was specifically noted as a solution for preventing overcrowding in certain areas, and increasing people’s value for the environment and conservation.

Some submitters cautioned that the necessity of the Act depended upon the resourcing and capacity of the Commission. It was thought that the Act’s effectiveness would diminish if the Commission was not capable of providing outdoor accessibility beyond what council and community groups could achieve on their own.

What’s working well

The Public Feedback Paper, that supported the review’s public engagement process, prompted consideration of what has worked well over the past decade. Submitters identified a range of examples in response, as well as in the context of answers to other questions posed in the paper. These included:

  • WAMS, the Commission’s mapping system. This highly valued resource is the key source of information on access for many access users, both individuals and organisations. However, the incompleteness of the data contained in WAMS was also highlighted, with submitters calling for a more coordinated, ‘one-stop-shop’ approach. This issue is dealt with in greater detail at Functions of the Commission;
  • public access opportunities successfully negotiated by the Commission over the last ten years. Many submitters also acknowledged the success of the Commission in establishing itself as the ‘go-to’ organisation on public access issues.

    One farming peak body submitted:

    ‘At a high level, the Walking Access Act and the Walking Access Commission have been a story of success. The Commission has managed its tasks efficiently and effectively. It has fostered continuing access to the outdoors across private land for responsible recreationalists and visitors, and promoted respect for the rights of property owners to the benefit of all New Zealanders’;

  • the Commission’s RFAs. Many submitters noted the importance of these staff as a first point of contact to assist them in establishing access, holding knowledge of access in local areas and being a neutral negotiator with landowners;
  • the Commission’s role as an independent broker, with the ability to represent the interests of all affected parties. Submitters in many cases combined this with an acknowledgement of the Commission’s willingness to collaborate and form strong partnerships across government, communities, landowners and access users. Further, both central government agencies and territorial authorities noted that their relationships with the Commission (in some cases through formal Memorandums of Understanding) were working well;
  • greater awareness of public access, and rights and responsibilities associated with public access, as a result of the Act and the work done by the Commission; and
  • funding available through the Commission’s EAF was also noted as a valuable resource for communities and others seeking to establish public access.

In considering any changes to the Act and work of the Commission, the value placed by submitters on the above elements of the current system should be taken into account.

Recommendation 1: That the House of Representatives notes this review finds there is resounding support for the ongoing need for the Walking Access Act 2008, and that the New Zealand Walking Access Commission is performing an important and valued role in the public access system.