Abolition of Queen's Chain should not be agenda
Public Access New Zealand news media release
Wednesday, 17 September 2003
Abolition of Queen's Chain should not become Government's agenda
While the Government-appointed Land Access Reference Group has provided welcome reiteration of what recreationists have been saying for decades - that public access to the countryside is becoming more difficult and something has to be done about it - several of the group's recommendations are unsupported by its research.
Public Access New Zealand (PANZ) spokesman Bruce Mason was commenting on an announced series of public meetings over the next month to consider the reference group's proposals. The group found that the current law and institutional arrangements are inadequate to meet public expectations for access to the outdoors.
However PANZ says this was concluded because the group ignored most existing access mechanisms and thereby avoided considering improvements to existing law. PANZ identified to the group 41 actions that government could take to greatly improve access. Most of these actions could be achieved with minimal or no change to the law. However the reference group has largely ignored these suggestions, instead favouring sweeping new powers to compulsory establish public access over private land. "There is plenty of law about access already on the books. What's needed is better performance by local government in particular", Mr. Mason said.
While PANZ welcomes the group's conclusion that the "ethos" of the Queen's chain should be embraced, it appears that in reality they are advocating it's abolition. This is through redefining what the Queen's chain is. The Group's research clearly records that successive governments have established public reserves along water margins for a variety of recreation, conservation, and public utility purposes, not just for "access" as the Group now imply.
By claiming that the Queen's chain is solely about "access" the reference group asserts that public reserves are no longer necessary. This view ignores encroachment and development along privately-owned water margins that obstructs public use. Just by "deeming" access to exist, as the group proposes without establishing public ownership of river banks and shores, does not secure access, Mr. Mason said. Active steps also have to be taken to manage water margins for recreational use and riparian protection.
A crucial flaw in the reference group's thinking is demonstrated by their admission that there is no point in providing public access to the edge of rivers if waterways remain in private ownership. In law, whoever owns the bank also owns the riverbed. That was a prime reason colonial authorities insisted that riverbanks become public reserves. "The true ethos of the Queen's chain is public reserves at least a chain wide along water margins, not "wimpy access" that is liable to be overturned by obstructive landowners and un-enforced by the authorities".
If Government adopts the Group's proposals, it appears that no new marginal strips and esplanade reserves will be created in the future when land is subdivided, and tens of thousands of kilometres of existing reserves and unformed roads will become liable to privatisation due to an erroneous belief that these are not needed. That is not what the public expects and not what the Government was elected to do, Mr. Mason said.
For government to adopt the Group's proposals would be in contradiction of Labour's 1993 Queen's Chain Protection Bill, and successive election promises to extend the Queen's chain.
PANZ is considering running its own public meetings around the country so that the implications of the reference group's proposals, and PANZ's alternatives, can be properly considered.
A "pros and cons" analysis of the reference group's report will be provided on the PANZ web site www.publicaccessnewzealand.org
Bruce Mason Researcher Public Access New Zealand Inc. Central Otago New Zealand