Paper Roads and Public Access


August 04 2014


Now easier to find

“Paper roads are relatively widespread across New Zealand farmland. They are more precisely called ‘unformed legal roads’ and have the same legal status as any other legal road. This means that the public can pass and re-pass over them on foot, on horseback or in vehicles. Up until now, the existence and location of paper roads or a local authority’s obligations and responsibilities towards them, have not been commonly known to the public.”

Paper roads now public knowledge

Although paper roads may be marked on survey plans, because they haven’t been formed, those paper roads are difficult to identify on the ground. The Walking Access Act 2008 was passed to provide the New Zealand public with free, certain and practical walking access to the outdoors. It also established the Walking Access Commission. The Commission has developed an online Walking Access Mapping System (WAMS) to inform the public and overseas visitors about land open to public access. On the WAMS website the public can identify the location of areas open to public access, including paper roads. The system can be accessed here or through the Commission’s website. The Walking Access Commission has also published a Walking Access Code which sets out the rights and responsibilities of recreational users and landowners.

Creation of paper roads

Most paper roads were created from England in the mid-1800s by people with little knowledge of New Zealand terrain and at a time when survey records didn’t have the degree of accuracy they have today. Consequently, the exact location of the paper roads may be uncertain, they may be in places that are inaccessible or it may be unlikely they will ever be formed into ‘real’ roads.

Ownership and maintenance of paper roads

As the local authority owns and administers all roads in its district (except highways) it’s also responsible for paper roads. The local authority is not, however, legally obliged to form, repair or maintain paper roads. It’s an offence to damage the surface of a road. This will include the turf of a paddock if the paper road is through a paddock. The local authority can ban access to the road if the public are using vehicles that are likely to cause damage. The owner of the adjoining land can also apply to their local authority for permission for stock to graze the paper road.

Rights and responsibilities

The owner of the land adjoining the paper road cannot prevent the public from using the paper road or obstruct the paper road with fences, trees, vegetation, buildings, livestock or locked gates. The owner of adjoining land may, however, obtain permission from the local authority to erect a cattle stop or a gate as long as it’s unlocked. Users of any paper road should be aware that it’s an offence under the Trespass Act 1980 not to leave gates as they are found.

Under the Health & Safety in Employment Act 1992 the owner of land adjoining the paper road must warn users of the road of any potential hazards, such as tree felling, earthmoving machinery or pest control on the land near the paper road. The landowner is not obliged, however, to warn users of the road of natural hazards, such as cliffs and rivers.

Resolving disputes

Disputes between users of the paper roads and adjoining landowners can arise in relation to the exact location of the paper roads and their use. As the local authority owns and administers all roads, they may be able to help resolve any disputes in relation to paper roads. The Walking Access Commission can also help with disputes about walking access. Otherwise, the Disputes Tribunal or the District Court might be the appropriate forum, if it gets to that point.

‘Stopping’ the paper road

Finally, the local authority and the Crown have powers to ‘stop’ a paper road. Stopping a road refers to the process by which the road ceases legally to be a road. Before stopping the road, the local authority must satisfy itself that the road is not needed now or will not be needed in the foreseeable future. The local authority cannot allow the private interests of any affected landowners to override the public interest that the paper road continues.


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