Crack down on owners who shut out walkers
A Taupo¯ resident is calling on Taupo¯ District Council to crack down on encroachments on one of its lakefront reserves and make it more accessible to the public.
Former Waikato regional councillor Laurie Burdett has long been concerned about the public being shut out of land that is legally theirs to enjoy and she says the Te Kopua Point lakefront reserve in Acacia Bay is particularly problematic with limited access to the public and encroachments all along the few parts that are accessible.
Laurie says (and a visit by a journalist confirmed) that where several parts of the reserve that run directly in front of houses, the reserve boundary markers sometimes do not exist or have been removed. That gives the impression that the land is private property and people tend to stay off it accordingly.
Laurie says while she has no desire to invade people’s privacy by walking along the front of their houses and believes most walkers would feel the same, the markers should stay in place to be clear about where private land stops and council reserve starts because otherwise the effect is to deny access onto public land.
However in some spots along the reserve, access has been blocked. In other areas it is poor or non-existent.
Laurie says she never knew there was a strip of council reserve along the lakefront at the northern end of Te Kopua Bay until late 2014 when the council asked for submissions on a landowner’s proposal to swap a piece of flat reserve land for a tree-clad cliff, plus $45,000, an offer it ultimately turned down.
When Laurie and other interested locals went for a look at the piece of land intended for the land swap, they were surprised to discover that what they had assumed was private land — mostly because it had gardens and lawns on it — was in some places actually council reserve.
In 2015 the council’s Fences, Roading, Reserves and Dogs committee told a homeowner, who had until then been unaware that what she thought was part of her front lawn was actually council reserve, that she had to remove the fence that encroached some 10m onto the reserve and blocked public access.
At that meeting it was agreed that the fence blocking the reserve had to go, but that the council would plant some trees on the boundary and give them a couple of seasons to grow before removing the fence.
The trees were planted but have since been removed.
The council put in a set of steps to allow access to the lower part of the reserve.
Other existing reserve encroachments that were in place at the time are still there nearly five years later, and in one part of the reserve, filled vegetation blocks the reserve pathways that run in front of some of the properties. In front of one vacant section, felled trees and vegetation were pushed down onto the reserve.
Laurie says with limited lakefront reserve land available at Acacia Bay, Te Kopua Reserve is important for recreation and access and the council should be reinforcing that by building a walkway along it, particularly the northern part. When the lake level is high, people cannot get along the beach and assume, wrongly thanks to the reserve encroachments, that the land above the lake shore is private property and cannot be accessed. She says the reserve would make a lovely area to walk along.
“The population of Acacia Bay is growing and more and more people are using the reserve. When the lake’s high you can’t get along the bottom, not easily.
“You could squeak a walkway along the bottom and it would join onto the boat ramp at Alberta St,
although it might be a problem at high lake levels.”
Laurie says the council needs to adopt a zero tolerance to reserve encroachments policy and enact it.
A Taupo¯ District Council spokesperson says encroachments are not permitted on land that is subject to the Reserves Act 1977.
“The Act applies to most of our parks and reserves, including Te Kopua Reserve.”
The spokesperson said the council must act in the best interest of the public who are the beneficiaries of the reserve.
“Council will be looking into ensuring public access to the reserve is maintained.”
A similar situation exists in Kinloch along the Whangamata¯ Stream and Okaia Stream reserves, both owned by the Department of Conservation.
Along the Whangamata¯ Stream Reserve a strip of public land runs along both sides of the stream. But reserve land on the true right has, in some parts been planted to make it look as though the land is an extension of the section adjoining it, with private gardens on the reserve and plantings that in some cases block foot access all together.
In other parts the reserve is used as a defacto dumping ground, with green vegetation dumped along the banks, which in turn spreads pest plants and weeds.
Department of Conservation operations manager Dave Lumley says over the years there have been a few occurrences of people expanding their property by mowing a reserve or disrupting a track.
He says DoC can also take action under the Reserves Act 1977 and warns that people putting assets on a DoC reserve can expect the assets to be removed.
He says DoC is supportive of people living next to a reserve taking custodianship, and would encourage landowners to work with DoC, particularly if they want to carrying out predator trapping or replanting.
He recognises that reserves can be viewed as being untidy, and this is often the motivation behind a landowner mowing the reserve to improve it.
His message to adjoining landowners is to respect the integrity of adjoining conservation land.
“Enjoy it but don’t treat it as your own private property.”
Laurie Burdett says a walkway along the Te Kopua Reserve and clearer definition of reserve boundaries would prevent walkers having to get wet feet, stop them inadvertently straying onto private property and prevent adjoining landowners from discouraging lawful reserve access.
Cut vegetation dumped on council reserve at Te Kopua Point prevents walkers from continuing along the top part of the reserve next to private properties. A reserve marker is at the top left hand corner of the photograph.
Dumped vegetation and compost bins along the DoC-owned Whangamata¯ Stream Reserve.