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Rivers, Lakes and Coastline, Public Space for All

By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner Baseline Group Marlborough, Ph:0800 254 123 | Dec 08, 2023

The right of access to and along the margins of rivers, lakes and the coastline by the public, is embedded in the Resource Management Act (RMA). District and Regional Councils are encouraged to provide and promote general public access to these spaces, for the amenity and wellbeing of all of our communities.

There is tension when an individual seeks to have sole occupancy of parts of this space for structures like boatsheds, jetties or whitebait stands, with the potential to create conflict between these users and the wider public. Further conflict can occur where erosion protection structures such as rip rap rock, or groynes are installed to protect private land from flooding or adverse weather, and this also restricts access to and along waterbodies.

Where individuals wish to have sole occupation of these public spaces, a resource consent is usually required to examine how much of the public space is sought to be occupied, the methods of construction and if use of the space is acceptable. In the case of jetties, often these are granted on the basis the presence of the structure does not restrict use by the wider public, although the owner remains responsible for the safety and maintenance of the jetties.

For people seeking to occupy public space the process of seeking a resource consent may seem onerous and is likely to include public notification of the application. For the wider public however, the removal of an inherent right of access to and along the margins of a waterbody has the potential to reduce the public enjoyment of these spaces, and the wider sense of community wellbeing by restricting access.

Without the process of notification, access to a waterbody might be restricted in a manner which decision makers were not aware would impact parts of the community. The process of public notification enables those who utilise the space currently to have their say on the impact to them. In many cases the occupancy of public space is unlikely to impact anyone, in which case the notification process may conclude with no submissions received.

However, there are cases where access may be restricted through a proposed occupation of public space which is not otherwise known to decision makers. This might include the use of a river a good fishing spot and a new structure preventing access to this spot. The submission process enables those users to express their concerns and often times leads to changes to the design or construction of structures in a manner which reduces the impact, or completely avoids it. This can result in a better outcome, ensuring the right of access is not diminished, and in some cases is enhanced.

For applicants, understanding use of public space is a privilege and not a right, enables practical solutions to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved for both the applicant and the wider public.

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