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Land Access Reference Group report

Land Access Reference Group report

The report by the Land Access Reference Group was an important document, Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton said today.

"Enlightened land law of the past established the family farm as the predominant form of land tenure and defined our nation, making us what we are today. In the same way, access to land for recreation has also defined us as a nation."

Mr Sutton released the Land Access Reference Group report today, and said he hoped that many people would read it carefully.

He announced a four-month consultation period, during which time anyone could tell the Government their views on access to land. This will be co-ordinated by the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry.

As part of that consultation process, public meetings are expected to be held around New Zealand. Some members of the Land Access Reference Group, including chairman John Acland, would attend the meetings to explain the group's findings.

The Land Access Reference Group has found that there are increasing difficulties and conflict around access to the outdoors.

It says the current law and institutional arrangements for access are inadequate to meet public expectations for access in a changing society.

The report proposes the formation of a Land Access Strategy, with five objectives which would: · strengthen leadership, to provide direction for, and coordination of, access arrangements nationwide; · provide greater clarity and certainty of access by locating and publicizing what is acceptable and where it may occur; · affirm the validity and embrace the ethos of the Queen's Chain by providing mechanisms for its promotion and enhancement; · encourage negotiated solutions for access across private land; and · find ways to improve current legislation provisions for access.

Mr Sutton said the issues involved were extremely complex and would not be resolved quickly.

He said the Land Access Reference Group report was an important document that would inform the debate considerably.

"It is not the last word on this issue though, and it does not set out Government policy."

Mr Sutton said there was a lot at stake for future generations in getting access right.

"When we think of New Zealand, we think of scenic beauty, wide-open spaces, and the ability to walk along mountains, rivers, and beaches enjoying that beauty and those wide-open spaces. Our tourism promotion is all built around those images, for example.

"Only a few years ago, it seemed that everyone had rural relatives and would spend some time on farms, learning the rules of proper conduct on farmland, and enjoying access to the outdoors. But these days, our population is overwhelmingly urban, with about 85 per cent of the population in cities and towns. Few people have that sort of experience on farms anymore, and often don't know how to act responsibly on farms, which are after all workplaces.

"This can cause tension between rural people and urban people."

The report highlighted the difference between access to urban land and to rural land, but Mr Sutton emphasised the Government has no intention of encroaching on curtilage (the area immediately adjacent to a dwelling).

"The report also finds little support for any 'right to roam' policy which some countries have, where people can wander at will over private land as of right.

"We have a special situation in New Zealand, with a legacy from our past in the form of Queen Victoria's instructions to the authorities at the time of our nation's birth. It is important for us to find an indigenous solution that meets our needs as a country, rather than just adopt someone else's rules."

Mr Sutton said he was grateful to the 11 members of the Land Access Reference Group for their excellent work.

"This issue has been one the Labour Party has indicated in our manifesto that needed work. The Land Access Reference Group and the subsequent work that will be done is a fulfillment of that election promise.

"It is proper for it to be done in a cautious, consultative, and measured way, and the Labour-led Government will do that."

Copies of the Land Access Reference Group will be available on the MAF website: http://www.maf.govt.nz/mafnet/rural-nz/

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