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Public ownership of foreshore essential for access

Public ownership of foreshore essential for public access

A false sense of security could arise from Waitangi Fisheries Commission chairman Shane Jones' comment that Maori need to accept public access to the foreshore and seabed as a non-negotiable issue, according to recreational lobby group Public Access New Zealand (PANZ).

PANZ spokesman Bruce Mason says that years of experience with public access mechanisms over private land indicate that, as secure as such arrangements may appear on paper, they are only as good as the current landowner wishes them to be.

Public rights of access via covenants, and easements such as Walkways, are regularly closed by landowners. The worst aspect is that official agencies such as the Department of Conservation and local authorities will run a mile to avoid enforcing public rights. They are more concerned about their relationship with landowners than they are with the public. This leaves the public with no remedies when access is denied.

Lack of official advocacy for the public will inevitably worsen as officials are increasingly required by Government to be more responsive to Maori.

Despite having no proven entitlement, indications are that Government is set to pass some form of ownership of the foreshore over to Maori, while claiming to guarantee public access. This is a continuation of discredited new right ideology that believes that public ownership of land is unnecessary to achieve public purposes including recreation. This is a fallacy, according to Mason.

Even National's Nick Smith while championing the retention of Crown ownership, sees this as only necessary to protect commercial interests and not to ensure public access. Mr. Smith claims that public access can be guaranteed without Crown ownership. If the model he has in mind is the same as used by the last National government the public has a lot to be concerned about.

Denis Marshall privatised the bed of Lake Taupo, with statutory rights of access reserved to the public. However PANZ regularly gets reports of members of the public being abused, harassed or assaulted by young Maori. Nick Smith gave away Mt Hikurangi and PANZ had to take him to court to try and get supposedly guaranteed access provisions along a Walkway honoured.

The reality is that, as Mr. Smith observes, if Maori are given title it will only be a matter of time before they want to exercise all the powers that go with that. "This is no different from any other private landowner", Mason observed.

"For the Government to go down a privatisation course would be in grave breach of Helen Clark's undertaking that Crown title would be retained. Crown ownership provides the only guarantee for public recreational use of beaches and foreshore", Mason concluded.

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